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A Growing Statistic: Death By Heat

Every year more than 30 children die of heat stroke after being left in cars that heat up. Their parents who forget they are in the backseat of the car leave most inadvertently.

So far this year, 12 children have died after being left in car and this number is continually growing.

Tammy Russell of Corona, California 6-month-old daughter Kaitlyn died after her babysitter left her in a car. Russell says she often wonders what her daughter Kaitlyn would look like today. This September she would have been entering kindergarten.

But 5 years ago on a hot summer day in California -- Kaitlyn's babysitter forgot her in the backseat of a car. The coroner said she succumbed to the heat in 15 minutes.

Tammy Russell developed an organization called, after Kaitlyn's death.

Janette Fennell who is the founder of organization "Kids and Cars," says, "This is a huge problem, and parents need to take extra precautions." For example always check the backseat, and be extra cautious when changing whom usually drives the children to their destinations.

The Early Show Correspondent Susan Koeppen did a drive around with Donna Tadiell, a Connecticut State Trooper. Part of her job is to drive in and out of rest areas and commuter parking lots looking for kids who may have been left alone in cars.

To prevent children from becoming trapped in hot cars -- even NASA has gotten involved. It has developed a safety system that would alert parents if a child were left strapped in a car seat. It's called the child presence sensor.

Here's how it works:

A device is placed in the child's car seat.
If a parent walks away with the baby still inside the car -- an alarm attached to a key chain will go off.

Tammy Russell supports a new federal bill that would require that sort of warning device in vehicles, an alarm that tells drivers a passenger is still in the backseat. In the meantime she says "parents need to be diligent."

Experts say many of these cases do not involve deadbeat parents. These are loving, caring, well educated parents, like doctors and lawyers, who forget their children in the backseat.

The Facts:

  • More than 30 children die every year after being left alone in cars suffering from hypothermia.
  • As of 7/18/05 12 children have died this way
  • Experts say children can't regulate their body temperature like adults; so even being left alone in hot car for minutes can be a killer
  • Cracking the window does little to help
  • A car sitting in the hot sun is like a greenhouse. On a hot day, even a day in the 70s, a car's inside can heat up well beyond 120 degrees.
  • Hyperthermia, better known as heat stroke can cause seizures, failure of organs, heart attack, brain damage and death.