It is something we hear on the news, but none of us ever imagine that it could happen to our own families. Although many of us think we would never make this fatal mistake, a simple change in routine or a distracted mind are often the most common culprits in hot car fatalities.
Because no parent or caregiver is immune to making mistakes, it’s important that we guard ourselves with awareness, information and preventative measures to keep our children safe from vehicular heatstroke.
The Reality of Heatstroke
According to KidsandCars.org, “On average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles.” That’s a staggering average of one death every nine days.
Heatstroke occurs when internal body temperature exceeds 104 F. Once the body reaches a core temperature of 107 F, cells are damaged and vital organs begin to shut down, which quickly leads to death.
Children do not have fully developed thermoregulatory systems and their body temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults. Even knowingly leaving your child unattended in the car for a few minutes as you run into the store or back into the house to grab something you forgot can be dangerous and even fatal.
The Heat Factor
In a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the temperature change in enclosed cars with ambient temperatures between 72 and 96 F was recorded and analyzed. According to the study, after 30 minutes the internal temperature of an enclosed car increases an average of 34 degrees. After one to two hours that number jumps to 45–50 degrees.
Researchers found that two-thirds of the total temperature rise inside a vehicle occurred within the first 20 minutes of leaving a car unattended. This rapid temperature rise occurs because the heat entering the car through the windows is absorbed by objects in the car such as the dashboard, seats and steering wheel, which then heat the surrounding air in the car similar to a convection oven. It’s this method of heating that can cause car temperatures to rise rapidly and to an extremely high level, even when the outside temperature is moderate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “When temperatures outside range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172.”
Again, all it takes is a simple change in routine or a distraction for a hot car death to occur. Using these simple prevention tips can be the difference between life and death.
- Place a trigger item next to your child’s car seat, such as your purse, cellphone or your left shoe. Those are things that will trigger you to turn around and look at the back seat because you’ll most likely need them, whether you’re running errands, going to work or returning home.
- Create a “look before you lock” routine. Make sure your cellphone is stowed away and that you consciously look to the back of your car before locking the doors.
- Talk to your daycare providers and ask that they contact you if your child does not arrive at daycare as scheduled.
- Keep your car keys and remote openers out of reach of children, and make sure your doors are locked at all times, even when your vehicle is in the garage or driveway.
- Talk to your kids and make it clear that the car is not a play area and it is only to be entered when you are with them.
Ever wonder what you would do if you saw a child in a car unattended? Bill HB131 provides immunity from civil liability if having to break into a locked vehicle to rescue a person or pets believed to be in danger of overheating.
This bill protects good Samaritans from liability when saving a child from a hot car, but some guidelines must still be followed:
1. Check to see if any doors are unlocked.
2. Call 911 or law enforcement either before or immediately after breaking into the vehicle.
3. Only use the necessary amount of force to break in.
4. Remain with the person, child or animal until first responders arrive on the scene.