Vehicles heat up quickly, and heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other safety advocates and academic institutions have recognized the safety threat heatstroke poses for leaving children in hot cars. Here are the key facts.
The danger of kids in hot cars
From 1998 to 2013, 606 children died due to heatstroke, representing 61 percent of total non-crash fatalities in this age group.
Of the 606 deaths:
- 52% were forgotten in the vehicle
- 29% gained access by themselves and became trapped
- 18% were left intentionally
- 1% were unknown cases
- Children are at a higher risk than adults of dying from heatstroke in a hot vehicle, especially when they are too young to communicate.
- A child’s temperature heats up 3 to 5 times faster than that of an adult’s. High body temperatures can cause permanent injury or even death.
- Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees and the thermoregulatory system is overwhelmed. A core temperature of about 107 degrees is lethal.
- In 10 minutes a car can heat up 20 degrees. Rolling down a window does little to keep it cool.
- Heatstroke fatalities have occurred even in vehicles parked in shaded areas and when the air temperatures were 80 degrees F or less.
- Heatstroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees.
The warning signs vary, but may include:
- Red, hot, and moist or dry skin
- No sweating
- A strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse
- A throbbing headache
- Being grouchy or acting strangely
It can happen to anyone. In 52 percent of cases, the child was “forgotten” by the caregiver, but in more than 29 percent of cases, a child got into the vehicle on their own.
Take steps to remember not to leave a child in a vehicle:
- Write yourself a note and place it where you’ll see it when you leave the vehicle.
- Place your purse, briefcase, or something else you’re sure to need in the back seat so you’ll be sure to see a child left in the vehicle.
- Keep an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. Once the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she leaves the vehicle;
- Ask your childcare center to call you if your child doesn’t arrive on time for childcare.
- If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and it’s normally your spouse, partner or caregiver who drops them off, have them call you to make sure the drop off went according to plan.
- If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly (not an ice bath but by spraying them with cool water or with a garden hose).
Kids in hot cars are a deadly combination. Whether intentional or accidental, these deaths are preventable, which makes it all the more tragic.
Here are some helpful tips to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
- Never leave a child alone in a parked car, even with the windows rolled down, or air conditioning on. Children’s body temperature can heat up 3 to 5 times faster than adults. A core temperature of 107 is lethal.
- Always look in both the front and back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking way.
- Heatstroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees. On an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.
- Never let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them a vehicle is not a play area.
- Always lock your vehicle doors and trunk and keep the keys out of a child’s reach. If a child is missing, quickly check all vehicles, including the trunk. Is dropping a child off not part of your normal routine? Come up with some ways to remind yourself that the child is in the car.
- Place an item that you keep on you, like a briefcase or purse, in the back seat next to the car seat, so that you’ll always check the back seat before you leave the car.
- Call your spouse after you drop the child off to make sure you didn’t forget. • Have daycare call you if your child doesn’t show up.
- Write a note and place it on the dashboard of the car. Or set a reminder on your cell phone or calendar. You can also download the Baby Reminder App for iPhones.
If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible.
- Cool the child rapidly by spraying them with cool water or a garden hose (check the water temperature before spraying — hose water can start out very hot). NEVER use an ice bath.
Remember: kids in hot cars are a deadly combination. Don’t take the chance. Look before you lock.