Heat stroke is the second leading cause of non-traffic fatalities among US children, second only to backovers (where drivers unknowingly run over children while backing up a vehicle.) Ninety percent of the children who die of heat stroke in cars are aged 3 years and younger.
Little bodies heat up fast—at 3 to 5 times the rate of adults’ bodies—putting children at high risk for heat stroke. A child whose core body temperature reaches 107°F experiences cell death and organ shutdown, leading to death.
In 2005 some researchers measured the temperature rise in a dark sedan on 16 different clear, sunny days, ranging in temperature from 72°F to 96°F. The study found that the rate of temperature rise inside the car didn't depend on how hot it was outside. On average, the increase was 3.2°F every 5 minutes, and 80% of the temperature rise occurred during the first 30 minutes.
How hot the care eventually got depended on how hot it was outside, but even at 72°F, the internal temperature reached 117°F.6 The researchers noted that, on average, internal temperatures increased 40°F.
Leaving the windows cracked open did not significantly slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature.
Even with outside temperatures as low as in the 60s, a car can heat up to much higher than 110°F.
So what is a parent to do? First (obviously) don't knowingly leave your children in the car. But many of the cases of heat stroke or death occurred when parents forgot about their child in the back seat. David Diamond, PhD, a leading expert said, "“The first thing to emphasize...is this happens to all kinds of people. This does not seem to target irresponsible people. It targets people who, in fact, are aware of this phenomenon. There are quite a few parents who have learned of other parents leaving kids in cars, and they judge them very harshly. Those are the very same parents who then forget their kids and their kids die. So, no one is immune from making this memory error. I tell people, if you’re human and have ever forgotten anything (if you satisfy those 2 criteria), then you can forget a child in a car.”
The problem seems to occur when parents depart from their normal habits or daily patterns. For example, a parent who doesn’t normally take his or her child to daycare, but does on that one day, is more likely to forget that child in the car, Diamond explains.“From a neuroscientific perspective, forgetting a child is [like] when you’re driving home from work and you intend to stop along the way just to go to the store, and you forget to go the store. You just drive home.”
The question remains, what is a parent to do? Most importantly, recognize that anyone can inadvertently leave their child in the car. There are some products out there that may also be helpful. Here's one that looks promising.
A few more tips:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Safe Kids Worldwide, and their safety partners recommend that people transporting children take these steps:
-Never leave children alone in or around cars, not even for a minute.
-Put something you'll need such as your cell phone, handbag, employee ID, or briefcase on the floorboard in the back seat.
-Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit. NHTSA calls this the “Look Before You Lock” campaign.
-Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that any time the stuffed animal is up front, you know the child is in the back seat in a child safety seat.
-Make arrangements with your child’s daycare center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled.
-Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway, and always set your parking brake.
-Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
-Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.
-When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
-If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If the child looks hot or appears to be sick, get the child out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
-Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes, and periods of crisis or holidays.
-Use drive through services when available (eg, restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners).
-Use a debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.
Keep those kids safe! Happy Summer!
ACT for Safety
Safe Kids Worldwide recommends that caregivers use the acronym ACT as a safety reminder:
A: Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. Also, make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.
C: Create reminders by putting something on the back seat of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse, or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.
T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911.
Safe Kids Worldwide.
Heat stroke safety tips:
Frequently asked questions:
Social media guide:
Print ad: ContemporaryPediatrics.com/heat-stroke-print-ad
Sample press release:
See more at: www.safekids.org/take-action-prevent-heatstroke