10:08 AM

Kids and Hot Cars: What You Need to Know

These are the summer news stories you never want to hear: 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. You don't need to be a parent to understand the dangers of children in hot cars. Below, educate yourself on heat stroke and easy, preventable tips.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke happens when yoru body's cooling mechanisms are overcome and your body temperature quickly rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It can happen when outside temperatures are as low as 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and a car in particular can heat up in just 10 minutes. 

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.

If the temperature outside is 75 degrees, the temprature inside a vehicle is approximately 118 degrees. As the outside temp rises, so does the interior.

Look before you lock

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.

  • Set a reminder to make sure no one is left in the car. (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.)

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

  • Always place something you need for the day (cell phone, bag, briefcase or purse) in the back seat. This will help you remember to check the back seat when you arrive at your destination. Be sure to secure this item in the back of a seat pocket or with a seat belt.

  • Make a habit of opening the back door and checking the back seat before locking it and walking away.

  • Be alert when there is a change in your routine. Is someone else driving your child or are you driving a different way to work or child care? If someone else is driving your child, always check to make sure he has arrived safely.

  • 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.