Kids and hot cars: a dangerous combination

Have you ever driven somewhere and not remembered how you got there? We all have… it’s called automatic pilot.

We are used to our routines; We don’t even have to think about it. However, it is important that we turn off that automatic pilot and try to be present as much as possible, especially when our routine involves transporting kids. Every summer children die because they are forgotten and left behind in the car. Summer is in full swing, and across the country temperatures are rising.

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A few concerning facts you must know about:

  • A child can die of heat stroke very quickly if left in a hot car.
  • Heat stroke is the principal cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in children younger than 15 years old.
  • Cars heat up rapidly. In about 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees F.
  • Temperatures inside a car can reach as high as 130 degrees, even when external temperatures are in the 60’s or 70’s, turning the car literally in an oven.
  • July and August are typically the deadliest months for children in cars.
  • In the last 20 years, around 800 children died in hot cars.
  • In 2018, 52 children were killed in hot cars.
  • So far this year, 16 children have died as a result of being left behind in a hot car. Sadly, by the time you read this blog post the number will have probably increased.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke happens when someone’s body gets too hot. You have probably heard of heat stroke in association with athletes passing out or dying after strenuous exercise in hot and humid climate while not drinking enough water to keep hydrated. Heat stroke can also happen to people who are exposed to extreme heat even if they are not exercising.

Heat stroke is described as a core body temperature of 104 to 105°F along with neurologic changes such as trouble thinking clearly, hallucinations, trouble walking, passing out, and seizures. Once the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, its natural cooling methods, such as sweating, begin to fail and the internal organs begin to shut down. Death is likely to occur at 107 degrees.

Heat stroke is a true medical emergency!

Why are children at risk when left in a hot car?

Several reasons:

  • Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than adult’s bodies.
  • As is expected, infants and young children, don’t know how to operate car door locks to free themselves from the hot car.
  • Typically, young children are restrained in car seats and booster seats from which they can’t easily get out of.
Three children in car safety seat

You might wonder…how in the world can a child be left in the car: 

Parents always try their best to keep their children safe, but having a change in routine or being busy, overworked, tired, and distracted can increase the risk of accidentally forgetting your child in the car. More than 50% of cases involving a child dying in a hot car is the result of a parent or caregiver who unfortunately forgot their kid in the car.

Other situations leading to deaths of children in hot cars are related to children gaining access to the vehicle (around 25% of cases) and caregivers knowingly leaving children in the vehicle (around 18% of cases).

What can you do as a parent to prevent this tragedy?

Prevent forgetting your child in the vehicle:

  • Avoid distractions while driving, especially talking on the phone and texting.
  • If there is a change in routine, set an alarm to remind you to drop off your child at daycare. Make sure this alarm has a unique ring tone and you only use it for this purpose.
  • Arrange for your child’s day care or pre-school to call or text you if your child is not there at the usual time.
  • Always place your handbag, wallet, or any other item you absolutely need on the back seat of the car. This will force you to literally inspect the back seat every single time you leave your car. Be present and purposeful when leaving your car. Always look at the back seat before locking up the car.
  • If a different care giver is driving your child to daycare or preschool, request a text or phone call confirming they delivered your child safely. If you didn’t receive the requested call, make a point of calling them and verify your child is where he/she is supposed to be at.
  • Keep a stuffed animal or some other reminder in the child’s car seat. When your child is in the car seat, put the stuffed animal on the front passenger seat. This should remind you your child is in the back seat.

Never deliberately leave your child inside the vehicle, not even if it is for a few minutes:

As I discussed earlier, cars can get extremely hot very quickly. Keep in mind that opening a window does little to keep the car cool once it is turned off, so never ever leave your child or pet inside the car.

Prevent your child from entering the car while unnoticed:

  • When at home, keep your car locked to stop a wondering toddler or young child from entering the car and accidentally locking themselves inside.
  • Always keep the car keys out of the reach of children.
  • If a child goes missing, please check the inside and trunk of all cars in the household.
  • As kids get more understanding, teach them how to work the car horn and explain to them to always hunk the horn if they get stuck inside a car.
  • Establish clear and specific rules for older children…cars are not a safe place to play at.

Resources for parents and caregivers:

The National Safety Council provides a free online course regarding the risks of vehicular heatstroke in children and ways to prevent these accidental deaths. This online course is a great resource. Please check it out and share with your family and friends.

Consider the use and apps such as Kars 4 Kids Safety that can be programmed for reminders. Remember the use of this or other apps is solely an added layer of protection. Ultimately you are responsible for your child.

Consider the use of a car seat monitors like ChildMinder SoftClip or Sense A Life, for example, but remember monitors should be use only as an added layer of protection. Ultimately you are responsible for your child.

Resources:

Up to date: Heat stroke in children

ABC News: record high number hot car deaths

nsc.org: kids in hot cars

Healthychildren.org: Prevent-Child-Deaths-in-Hot-Cars

fatherly.com: best-car-seat-alarms