Florida leads in hot car deaths across US after 10-month-old dies – Pensacola News Journal

Florida leads the nation in hot car deaths, with the death of a 10-month-old child who was left in a car while her babysitter attended to other children bringing the state’s total deaths to six in 2023.
The most recent incident happened on Wednesday in Baker County. The Baker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed a 10-month-old girl died after she was left unattended in a vehicle at an Estates Street residence in Macclenny.
The child’s babysitter, Rhonda Jewell, 46, was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, according to information posted Thursday on the Baker County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
Jewell picked the baby up from a home in Macclenny around 8 a.m. before heading over to another home where she watched three other children, the post said. Jewell realized the 10-month-old was still in the car when the baby’s mother arrived at 1 p.m. The baby was rushed to Fraser Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead.
Florida hot-car death:Baker County sheriff: 10-month-old baby dies after left in hot car
The temperature in Macclenny on Wednesday reached a high of 97 degrees, five degrees higher than the historic average, according to Weather Underground. The heat index neared a sweltering 110 degrees.
Temperatures inside the car reached 133 degrees, according to the sheriff’s office report.
Despite measures to raise public awareness around hot car deaths, they remain an unfortunate occurrence. Many people struggle to wrap their heads around how parents and guardians could “forget” a child in the car, but experts who have weighed in on the topic say it could happen to anyone.
Among the biggest misperceptions about hot car deaths is that many people don’t think it could happen to them, said Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Car Safety.
“It can happen that quickly, to a good person or a bad person, there are too many examples to count,” Fennell said. “That’s our biggest challenge, that it can absolutely happen to anyone.”
David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, works closely with KidsAndCars.org and focuses on cognitive neuroscience including the neurobiology of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.”
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Diamond told USA Today in 2019 that he believes competent parents who forget their children in the car experience a failure of the memory system.
In his research, Diamond has written about “prospective memory,” which is a system involving the intent to remember and complete tasks outside of someone’s ordinary routine, and another system called “habit memory,” which is like being on autopilot.
Diamond’s theory is that when the prospective memory fails, the habit takes over and puts people into that autopilot mode.
A parent leaving a baby in a car is not carelessness; it’s a failure of the memory system, he concluded.
Heatstroke can occur if the core body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher.
A core temperature of 107 is considered potentially lethal. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The number of hot car deaths in the U.S. had been on a sharp decline after they peaked in 2019 with 53 recorded deaths, the same number of deaths as in 2018, according to the National Safety Council.
Since 1998, the national average for hot car deaths was 38. Stay-at-home orders enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic helped substantially reduce the number of reported deaths between 2020 and 2021 to 25 and 23, respectively. Last year, the hot car deaths nearly rebounded to the annual average with 33 fatalities.
There have been 14 child-related hot car deaths in 2023 so far.
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Overall, Florida is second in the nation behind Texas for having hot-car deaths involving children, Fennell said.
Florida has had at least 111 child-related hot car deaths between 1990-2022. Texas had 146 such deaths during the same time period, according to the organization.
So far in 2023, Florida has six recorded deaths, while Texas has two, according to Kids and Car Safety.
More than 1,054 children have died, mostly due to heatstrokes in hot vehicles, and at least another 7,300 survived with varying types and severities of injuries since 1990, the year Kids and Car Safety began collecting such information, Fennell said.
Tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Technology has helped mitigate the number of child-related hot car deaths with the introduction of reminder and detection systems, which are often car seats equipped with sensors and apps.
Over the years, vehicle manufacturers have looked to develop radar technologies that could detect micro-movements and be able to understand breathing, heartbeat and other ways to find signs of life inside vehicles, such as Toyota’s “Cabin Awareness” concept.
Less expensive after-market items can also help parents keep tabs on what’s going on inside their cars. Some of the more expensive systems available can be installed inside a vehicle and can detect when a car door opens and closes, sets automatic reminders when it detects something in the backseat and more.
Experts warn that these solutions can be great supplemental tools, but the best approach is multi-layered.
In a report put out in May by the San Jose State University, reminder-only systems could save an estimated 295 lives over the next 20 years while detection systems could potentially save 559.
The report states that over 20 years, only 30% of those potential lives lost would be saved through technology alone and iterated the importance of continued education and awareness.