Every year, an average of 38 children die because of heat-related injuries caused from being left in a car. And as of mid-July of this year, 10 children have died from heat stroke after being left in a hot car. Only a small percentage of children are left in cars intentionally, meaning that the majority of deaths can be prevented.
Heat strokes occur when heat causes the body’s core temperature to increase to 106 degrees. According to Dr. Richard Saladino, chief of pediatric emergency medicine, at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, “If the outside temp is 90, temperatures [in the car] can increase from 80 degrees to 130 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes.” “The temperatures rise very quickly, rise to such extremes where the body can no longer compensate,” says Dr. Amy Sniderman, pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
- Within 10 minutes, the temperature in the car can rise by 20 degrees; on an 80 degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.
- Cracking a window does very little to keep the car cool.
- Even with temperatures as low as the 60s, your car can heat up to well above 110 degrees; heatstroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees.
- A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s.
- A child can die when his or her core temperature reaches 107.
- Look before you lock. Open the backdoor and look in the backseat to assure everyone is out of the car, even if you think you don’t have a child with you.
- Keep something you need in the backseat. Put anything essential to your daily routine such as your cell phone, briefcase, computer, lunch, work ID, or even your left shoe.
- Travel with a furry companion. Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat, and when the baby is in the seat, the stuffed animal rides up front. This serves as a reminder that there’s a baby in back.
- Always lock the door even when the car is in the garage. This will prevent children from getting into the car without the parent’s knowledge to play.
- Don’t let children play with keys. This prevents them from possibly unlocking the car doors and getting in without the parents being aware.
- Have a plan with your childcare provider. If you child doesn’t show up to daycare or school without prior notice, someone should call to locate the child.
- If you see something, do something. If you see a child alone in the car, don’t hesitate to call 911.
Health communicators can play an important role in preventing heat-related injuries and deaths among children left unattended in cars. Education about the risks of leaving a child in the car and tips to prevent can start before the child is born and should continue as the child ages. No parent is immune to the possibility of accidentally forgetting their child in the car. “The biggest mistake people make is thinking it can’t happen to them,” Fennel says. “When you say ‘this can’t happen to you’ then you have already decided you don’t need to use these safety tips…it is easier to blame others than to understand that we are all vulnerable.”