Children's Health & Safety Association

Issue 43: July 2018

Sunday, 01 July 2018 13:24

More Children Dying in Hot Cars

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July 1, 2018 – Around 6 PM on Friday, June 22, 2018, a 6-month-old baby boy was found unconscious in the back seat of a car by his father who realized that he forgot to drop him off at the day care centre that morning.

The paramedics tried to resuscitate the baby, but he was declared dead at the scene. The child’s parents suffered nervous shock and were transported to hospital. 

While the baby’s death is not being treated as a crime, the parents will be questioned by Montreal police.

Numerous, national news reports state that parents forget their child is in the backseat of the car because they have changed their routine, they are under unusual pressure, or they believe their child is being taken care of by another person – as nonsensical as this may sound. 

Some parents think it's OK to leave their child unattended in a car for just a minute so they can run an errand but end up staying away for a much longer period of time.  It’s so easy to get distracted these days, isn’t it?

Then again, some parents have a propensity to act irresponsibly, placing their children in harm’s way.  These parents will not take our advice and listen to reason or caution.  They listen to no one.

The worst thing you can do is think that it could not happen to you – because it does again and again – year after year. 

Shaun Pennell, 37, father of a three-year-old who died after being left in a hot car in Burlington, Ontario on May 23, 2018, has been charged with one count of criminal negligence causing death and one count of failing to provide the necessities of life. 

The three-year-old boy died of hyperthermia consistent with being left in a vehicle while exposed to high temperatures for an extended period of time.

Just a few days later, a fifty-three-year old man was charged after leaving a seven-year-old boy in a hot car while shopping at Walmart near Hamilton, Ontario. The boy was able to activate the car’s alarm but could not unlock the door.  A couple walking by noticed the boy in the car and helped him find the lock. The boy, distressed and sweating profusely, was treated by the EMS at the scene.

The man, not related to the boy, was charged with leaving a child unattended under the ‘Child and Family Services’ Act and will appear in court on June 20th, 2018.

The penalty for seat belt infractions in Canada is a fine between $200 and $1,000.  Convicted offenders receive two demerit points. 

The penalty for leaving a child unattended in a car in Canada is $60.00.

According to the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at the San Jose State University, over 750 children have died in the United States since 1998 from heatstroke while left in vehicles.  Last year 42 children died from heat stroke and so far this year, 9 children have died.

According to the European Child Safety Alliance, 54% of parents had intentionally left their child in the car, while 46% had forgotten to drop their child at daycare.

The Canadian government and health institutions do not have the means to collect national statistics, but the Canada Safety Council estimates that four to six children die of vehicular heatstroke in Canada each year.

There should be zero tolerance in the eyes of the law when it comes to leaving children in cars.  

“For every 1% increase in seat belt usage, 5 lives in Canada are saved,” says Transport Canada.

Since seat belts were made mandatory, the number of people killed and injured in collisions in Ontario has steadily dropped.  So, it begs the questions.  If the penalty for leaving a child unattended in a car were commensurate with the offence, wouldn’t more children’s lives be saved?  Wouldn’t more people be aware of the dangers of leaving a child in a car?  How do you drive the message home?  If you can’t appeal to their common sense, appeal to their wallet?

Police and media constantly remind parents to think twice before leaving children or pets in a car – even if it is for only 30 seconds to do a tiny errand. But it seems the very people that should pay heed believe these precautionary measures do not include them.  Therein lies the head-scratching perplexity – and the ultimate sadness.

Canadian Law

Canadian LawCanada’s Criminal Code offers some direction about when it’s appropriate to leave a child unattended. 

Section 218 (R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 218; 2005, c. 32, s. 12.) under Federal Law of Canada’s Criminal Code states:

Every one who unlawfully abandons or exposes a child who is under the age of ten years, so that its life is or is likely to be endangered or its health is or is likely to be permanently injured,

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.

Ontario parents who leave their young unattended may also be subject to the province’s Child and Family Services Act, which outlines behaviour that could prompt an investigation by a local Children’s Aid Society.  This legislation pertains to children 16 and younger, unless the child is already in the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) system, in which case the cut-off extends to 18 years.

The section most relevant to child abandonment in Ontario dictates that a child is in need of protection when he or she has suffered physical harm as a result of their parent’s “failure to adequately care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child.”

State Law in the U.S.

In 2014, Tennessee was the only state where you can legally smash a window or otherwise forcibly enter a parked car without liability if you have “a good faith belief” the actions help a minor who will suffer “harm if not immediately removed from the vehicle.”  Since then, Florida has jumped on board with similar legislation.

While other states have broad laws that protect good Samaritans from lawsuits, Tennessee has enacted a landmark piece of legislation because it specifically addresses children left unattended in cars.

It is illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle in 19 states.  Parents and caregivers could face desertion charges. 

State law describes "unattended" as "a child who has been left in a motor vehicle when the driver or operator of the vehicle is more than 10 feet from the vehicle and unable to continuously observe the child."


  • sunHeatstroke can happen when the temperature is as low as 14 Celsius (57° F) and car interiors can reach well over 43 Celsius (110° F) because solar radiation is trapped in the vehicle.
  • On a summer day, the temperature inside a car can soar to 50 Celsius (122° F) in as little as 10 to 20 minutes.
  • A child’s body temperature heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s temperature because it is not as efficient in regulating body temperature.
  • At a body temperature of 41 Celsius (107° F), human cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down.
  • A child left in a sweltering car could go into shock, have organ failure and die — even after being rushed to hospital.
  • Cracking a window DOES NOT keep a car cool and DOES NOT provide adequate oxygen for a child to breathe.
  • 18% of children, who succumbed to heat stroke, crawled into parked cars by themselves. Children can gain access to a car that is unlocked in a garage or driveway. While inside the car, they become overwhelmed by the heat or find themselves trapped and can't get out of the car.
  • According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hot vehicles are the primary non-crash vehicular related killer of children under the age of 14.
  • Children less than one year of age are the most common victim.

Safety Tips

  • Sun and SkyNEVER, EVER leave your children alone in a vehicle – no matter what the season – no matter what the reason.
  • Make it a habit to place your cell phone, purse, briefcase, or wallet next to your child’s car seat to ensure you open the back door of the vehicle before leaving for your next destination. Alternately, you can place a toy in the front seat as a reminder that your child is in the backseat.
  • You may be more distracted or anxious during holidays or schedule changes, so devise a system that will keep you focussed during these hectic times.
  • Ask your daycare provider to call you if your child does not show up when expected, and as well, make sure they know you will call them if your child will not be in attendance on a particular day.
  • Always lock your car to prevent children from gaining access.
  • Keep your car keys and remote openers out of reach from your children at all times.
  • Teach children that a car is not a play area.
  • The moment you realize a child is missing, check your vehicle and trunk - and then your pool.
  • Use drive-thru services when running errands such as banking, dry cleaning and food establishments.
  • Use a debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.
  • Educate family members and babysitters about car seat safety before you leave your children in their care.

If You See A Young Child in A Parked Car

  1. Parked CarDon’t hesitate…Call 911 immediately.
  2. Attempt to locate the parents.
  3. If you happen to be at the site with someone else - one person could search for the parent while the other person waits at the car.
  4. If the child is not responsive or appears in distress, attempt to get into the car by breaking a window. Ask people around you for assistance.
  5. If you are successful in getting the child out of the car, begin a rapid cooling process by taking the child to a cool environment, undressing the child, and sponging with cool water.

What are the Warning Signs of Heatstroke?

Babies and young children can overheat quite easily because their tiny bodies do not have the capability to regulate body heat as efficiently as adults do - therefore, their body temperature will rise quickly.  Heat stroke indicates that a person’s body temperature is higher than 40 Celsius (104° F), and possibly as high as 41 Celsius (106° F). Here are some warning signs of heatstroke:

  • Red, hot dry skin
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • A rapid, strong pulse but weak heart rate
  • Weakness, dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion and delirium
  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsion

If your child exhibits these symptoms:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Move the child to a cool environment
  • Undress the child
  • Sponge the child with cool water

DO NOT give the child a fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These medicines are not effective in reducing a high body temperature caused by heat stroke.

Closing Notes

It is imperative for parents to understand the risks they are taking when they decide to leave their children unattended in cars – even for 30 seconds. 

Children rely on parents for their security, well-being and happiness.  It is vitally important for parents to act responsibly by providing safeguards for their children.  After all, our children are our first priority.

Automobile manufacturers are now starting to install sensors to detect back seat passengers. 

GMC identified a serious, safety issue and has a reminder system for rear car seats in many of its 2018 models, and Nissan announced a version of this sensor technology last year. 

Perhaps this new technology will become more common – and one day, mandatory in all vehicles.

Additional Resources

Canada Safety Council

Children, Cars and Summer Temperatures

Thank You to Our Heroes

Read 3505 times Last modified on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 13:24

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Children's Health and Safety Association's mission is to provide up-to-date health and safety information for every concerned parent.  We believe the most effective way of instilling positive change for children is through awareness and information programs.


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