By Hannah Rhudy

Hot car death.

If you’re a parent, grandparent or caregiver of young children, I encourage you to keep reading to learn how you can prevent this tragedy from affecting those you love.

Hot car deaths are something a lot of adults refuse to talk about, perhaps because so many think, “I would never leave my child in a car.”

The reality is this killer affects all types of families. Typically, it is a problem with parents’ memories, not negligence. Sadly, 52 children died in hot cars in 2018, including four in Virginia, making it the deadliest year on record nationwide. As of July 22, 21 children have died across America in hot cars, including one in Minnesota in early May. Yes, Minnesota.

Four tragic hot car deaths in Richmond in 15 months

On May 10, 2018, when 4-month-old twins died in Chesterfield in a hot car, I started thinking how I could make a difference.

I began developing a simple, colorful car hangtag to remind drivers of their most precious cargo in the back seat. Working with a volunteer graphic designer, I came up with BabyIn BabyOut, a community initiative to get free hangtags into the hands of parents.

On Aug. 8, 2018, tragedy struck again near Richmond, when a young father accidently left his 17-month-old son strapped in a car seat in the uncovered parking deck on the Capital One campus in Goochland. Medics attempted to revive the unconscious toddler, but he later died. The high temperature recorded that devastating day was 93 degrees.

That story from Capital One broke my heart, and similar tragedies moved me to quick action. The next day, Aug. 9, 2018, I officially launched BabyIn BabyOut by finalizing our hangtags and going live with our website and social media pages. I secured my first hangtag distribution partnership with KidMed, a local pediatric urgent care provider. Since then, I’ve partnered with 10 police and sheriff departments in the Richmond area and nearly 15 other organizations.

Goochland Sheriff Jim Agnew has been particularly supportive of BabyIn BabyOut. His department responded that awful August day to the Capital One parking lot. This spring, Sheriff Agnew invited me to the Goochland Board of Supervisors meeting to share my initiative. I met first responders who worked to save the toddler. One firefighter told me my work is helping his department to heal from the tragedy at Capital One.

My heart sank on July 16 when I learned of a 10-month old who died in South Richmond reportedly after being left in a hot car.

How the tags work

My free hangtags are simple. On the pink side, they read “Baby In,” and on the green side, they read “Baby Out.” The tags are heat- and tear-resistant, so they’ll hold up in a hot car that can reach 120 degrees. These are low-tech reminders for now, and I’m exploring tech options.

Drivers can display the “Baby In” side facing them when the child is in the car and on the opposite side when they take the baby out of the car. The tags can hang on the radio knob, gear shifter, door handle or rearview mirror when the car is parked. We also have two-sided, 3-inch circular dash cards with the same message in English and Spanish.

So far, I’ve given away 8,000 tags. My newest partner, Child Care Aware of Virginia, will be giving away 7,500 of the tags across the commonwealth, and I have about 14,000 more to give away before printing more.

Know the facts

A parked car can quickly become a deadly oven that could kill a child or pet. Consider these facts:

  • A car can heat up by 20 degrees in 10 minutes.
  • A child’s body overheats three to five times faster than an adult’s body.
  • Heat stroke begins when the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees.
  • When a child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, death can occur.
  • Cracking car windows or parking in the shade doesn’t slow the heating process.

With National Heatstroke Prevention Day on July 31, here are three ways you can help:

1) Spread the word to your friends with kids by giving them a free hangtag and reminding them to always look in the back seat before they lock the car.

2) If you see one of our brightly colored tags in a car, take an extra look inside. Even if you don’t see a tag on a car, look inside family-sized cars in parking lots. It takes just seconds, and you could save a life.

3) Connect with us online. Visit our website at www.babyinbabyout.org or on Instagram and Facebook @babyinbabyout to learn how you can help prevent hot car deaths.

And remember, 10 minutes and 107 degrees, is all it takes for a child to die in a hot car.

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Hannah Rhudy, 14, is the founder of BabyIn BabyOut, a soon-to-be nonprofit. She is a rising freshman at the James River High School Center for Leadership & International Relations in Chesterfield County.

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