10:41 PM

Kids and Hot Cars

We’re hitting the time of year when outdoor temperatures climb in to the 80s, 90s and above. It’s also a time of year when you hear heartbreaking news stories about young children left unattended in cars. Whether a parent makes a quick run to the grocery store or forgets they have a child in the car, results are tragic and often fatal.

Rapidly rising temperatures

Approximately 750 children have died in an overheated cars since 1998. These cases frequently involve a child being forgotten or a child accidentally locking him- or herself inside a hot car.

The rapid rise in the interior car temperature is critical to understand. In just 10 minutes, a car’s interior temperature can rise nearly 20 degrees. The rapid rise in temperature is dangerous for a child, according to Andrew Miller, DO, emergency physician with LVPG Emergency Medicine at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest. “A child’s body temperature rises faster than an adult. This leads to a child becoming dehydrated and suffering a heatstroke, which can cause permanent brain or organ damage, or death,” he says.

Steps to keep your kids safe

Many people think, “This will never happen to me,” but even the most vigilant parent makes mistakes. “Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding child overheating deaths shows us that, more than half of the time, children are left in the car for unintended reasons,” Miller says. Often a forgotten child involves a distracted parent or a day when usual routine changes, such as a father taking his child to daycare when the mother cannot. When customary practice changes, it is easy to forget a quiet passenger.

There are steps you can take to keep your child safe when you’re traveling on a hot day:

  • Never leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute.

  • Use drive-through services whenever possible to avoid the need to get out of the car.

  • Give yourself reminders that a child is in the backseat. Put your diaper bag in the front seat, or your purse, briefcase or phone in the back seat. (TIP: If you use Waze, a GPS Navigation app, it offers a “Child Reminder” feature. This alert appears every time your vehicle reaches its destination.)

  • Always lock your car when you leave it to prevent a child from getting inside. According to NHTSA, nearly 30 percent of these heatstroke deaths occur when a child gains access to a vehicle. Teach your child that the car is not a toy.

  • If a child is locked in a car, get him or her out right away. Call 911 for help if needed. Call 911 immediately if the child looks flushed or listless.

Don’t let your guard down even on a day without much sun or by finding shelter under trees. Shady conditions may temporarily help, however two hours inside a vehicle can still cause heat injury or death.

To learn more or to learn about Raising a Family classes, visit lvhn.org/raisingafamily