Children can die very quickly if they are left in a car during the summer or if they become trapped in a car while playing. These preventable heatstroke deaths claim dozens of young lives every year.
A child’s body heats up three to four times faster than an adult’s, the safety organization Kids and Cars says. Infants and young children – who must rely on others to keep them safe – are especially sensitive to the effects of extreme heat. Kids and Cars says an average of 37 children die in car heatstroke deaths every year.
A child can die if their body temperature reaches 105oF or higher and they do not receive prompt medical care, according to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
During the summer months in Georgia, the temperature inside a car can reach 125oF in only a few minutes, with 80 percent of the increase in temperature occurring in the first 10 minutes. Cracking the windows does not slow how quickly a car heats up, nor does it lower the temperature the air in the car will ultimately reach.
About one third of children who die in hot cars got into the vehicle on their own. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report says children who climb into cars on their own can become confused about how to open the door, particularly as the effects of the heat take hold. They may even unknowingly lean on the lock, thwarting their struggle to get out.
In more than half of documented cases of vehicular heatstroke involving children, a child was unknowingly left in the car by a parent or another caregiver, Kids and Cars says. Most parents cannot imagine forgetting their child the backseat of a vehicle. It can happen for a variety of reasons, including changes in normal daily routine, lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, and distractions. Children, especially babies, can also fall asleep in their rear-facing child safety seats, which makes them quiet and more easily to overlook.
Recognizing the serious risks of leaving a child in a car accidentally, it’s important for parents and caregivers to have a system in place to remind them to check the backseat every time they get out of the car.
Kids and Cars, and Safe Kids Worldwide offer several steps for preventing these accidental deaths:
- Never leave children alone in or around cars. There should be no exceptions to this rule, no matter how quickly you expect to return.
- Learn to “Look Before You Lock.” Make it a conscientious practice to always open the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle. After about three weeks it will become a habit.
- Plant reminders in your car. Put a stuffed animal or another object in your child’s car seat if it is in the rear seat. When you put your child in the seat, move your reminder object to the front seat alongside you so it will serve as a reminder. Put something you need – your cellphone, purse, briefcase, employee ID – in the rear seat alongside the child safety seat.
- Create a daily calendar reminder on your phone and/or other personal electronics that you actually dropped off your child and got them out of the car at the daycare or when you returned home.
- Make an agreement with your daycare provider that they will contact you within minutes of the appointed time if your child does not show up.
- Always lock your car when you park it – at home and everywhere else. Make sure your trunk is locked. Do not leave your keys or remote control fobs where children can reach them.
- If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911 immediately or alert police or other emergency responders to the situation if they are nearby. If a young child looks to be or seems to be very hot or sickly, take the child out of the car ASAP.
- Whenever a child is missing, check all passenger areas and the trunks of all nearby vehicles.
- Know the symptoms of heatstroke and call 911 of it is apparent:
Heat exhaustion, a precursor to heatstroke, is characterized by:
- Increased thirst
- Cramped muscles
- Sickness, vomiting or Nausea
- Excessive sweats or sweating
- Severe Headaches
- Increased sweating
- clammy or cool skin temperatures
- High bodily temperatures.
Take steps to cool a child exhibiting symptoms of heat exhaustion. Bring them indoors or at least into the shade. If the child is alert, bathe them in cool water, and give them frequent sips of cool clear liquids.
The months of hot weather in Georgia are at hand. Every parent and caregiver should take safety precautions to protect your children from accidental heatstroke.