Florida Tops Nation in Child Hot Car Deaths, Prompting Calls for Action
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a disheartening statistic, Florida has emerged as the leading state in child hot car deaths this year, accounting for six out of 18 reported cases. Tragically, the most recent incident involved a 10-month-old infant just last month. Concerned by these alarming figures, advocates are now urging lawmakers to take further action to prevent such tragedies. However, state leaders assert that the solution lies within individual responsibility.
During a press conference in Tallahassee on Monday, Florida’s Department of Children and Families Secretary, Shevaun Harris, appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis, emphasized that the issue is preventable. Harris suggested a simple yet powerful solution, stating, “If you heard nothing else from us — this is a preventable thing.” In her view, lawmakers do not need to address the problem through stricter penalties; rather, she proposed a practical measure: the use of a shoe.
Harris emphasized that people are unlikely to step out of a car without their shoes, claiming, “You might forget a backpack — you might even forget your purse. No one is leaving a car without their shoe, right, on their foot? If you are — there are other things we need to be talking about. Leave something that you know you can’t live without.” This approach seeks to promote awareness and personal responsibility to minimize the risk of hot car deaths.
While Florida has taken legislative action to address the issue in the past, including laws allowing passersby to rescue children or animals in distress by breaking car windows and requiring alarms in childcare transport vehicles, the state still experiences distressing levels of hot car deaths. In fact, this summer has been the worst since 2017.
Amber Rollins, the director of the national nonprofit organization Kids and Car Safety, stressed the urgent need to do more. Even though extensive efforts have been made to educate the public and raise awareness, Rollins affirmed, “This is not something that’s going away. We’re not going to educate it away, and awareness is at an all-time high. So, we’ve got to do more.”
Rollins, along with other child safety advocates at Kids and Car Safety, believes that Florida has the potential to implement additional measures through state law. Over the years, the nonprofit has actively campaigned for various policies, such as mandated hot car education, alarms in all passenger vehicles transporting children (including private vehicles), and expedited parental notification for unforeseen absences in childcare facilities. Rollins remarked, “Florida would be a great place to start doing something like that because, unfortunately, Florida is paving the way in the worst kind of way for hot car deaths in the US.”
As the legislative session approaches, it remains uncertain whether these proposals will be considered. Officials from the state House and Senate expressed unfamiliarity with any ongoing initiatives. However, there is ample time for change before the gavel drops in January 2024, presenting an opportunity to address this pressing issue head-on.