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Kids in Hot Cars Alert

Hidden Dangers

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A baby left in a hot car can quickly get too hot and suffer heat stroke.

A baby left in a hot car can quickly get too hot and suffer heat stroke, which can lead to a high fever, dehydration, seizures, stroke and death.

Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

Although experts often focus on more common safety measures, like using car seats correctly and basic childproofing, there are many less well known 'hidden dangers' that may put your kids at risk.

Your family car is one of these 'hidden dangers,' and it is not just because of car accidents. In addition to the risk of getting hit or run over by a car, being left or getting trapped in a hot car can be just as deadly a danger. In fact, at least 600 children have died after being left in a hot car (sometimes on relatively mild days with only 70 degree temperatures) since 1998.

Each year, an average of 37 kids die after being left in a hot car. Unfortunately, we have already passed that number this year, with 42 deaths as of late-September.

Situations in which kids get hurt in hot cars include when:

  • infants and toddlers are simply forgotten in their car seat
     
  • toddlers or preschoolers sneak into the car to play and can't get out
     
  • kids get trapped in the trunk
     
What's the danger?

In addition to the risk of being abducted if they are left alone in a car, on a typical summer day, the temperature inside a car (even with the windows rolled down a little) can quickly rise above 120 to 140 degrees. Even on a relatively mild day, the temperature inside a car can get above 100 degrees. At those temperatures, kids are at great risk for heat stroke, which can lead to a high fever, dehydration, seizures, stroke and death.

If you don't think that it can happen to you or your kids, consider these descriptions from the death certificates of children from 1998 that were published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • a 9 month old died after being 'left strapped in child safety seat in a sweltering minivan for two hours - misunderstanding between child's parents resulted in the child being left alone in the van; one parent believed infant was at home with other'
  • a 6 month old 'baby died when accidentally left in hot car for 3 hrs, died when outside 90-degree temperatures rose to 130 degrees inside closed car, parents thought the other had carried the baby from the car to crib'
  • a 34 month old 'toddler who recently learned how to open a car door apparently climbed inside family station wagon while parent and sibling were in house'
  • a 23 month old died when a 'relative babysitting child, put child in car for trip to store, went back in house having forgotten something, was distracted by something on television, sat on couch to watch, fell asleep, woke up two hours later'
  • a 2 year old died after a 'parent left child in car after returning home from errand - was left for more than an hour'
  • a 2 year old 'child apparently slipped away from parents and siblings, fell asleep atop blanket in unlocked car in driveway of home, oldest sibling found child 40 minutes later'
Remember, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 'a locked car sitting in the summer sun quickly turns into an oven,' and 'temperatures can climb from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes, to 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes.'

Safety Tips

To keep your kids safe:
  • don't leave them in a car, which can quickly heat up, especially on a hot, sunny day
  • always lock your car and secure the keys so that your kids can't get to them
  • warn your kids about playing in the car by themselves without adult supervision
  • install a trunk release mechanism, so that they can't get trapped in the trunk
  • get your kids out of the car first, and then worry about getting the groceries, etc., out of the car when you get home
  • make sure that child car providers and day care workers have a plan to make sure that kids aren't left in the day care providers car or van
If you are afraid that you might leave your sleeping infant or toddler in their car seat when you get out of the car, place a reminder on the dashboard.

Also be on alert for cars that might have an unattended child left inside. If you see a child alone in a car, be sure to call 911 and help make sure the child gets out as soon as possible.

And when a child is missing, in addition to checking the backyard pool and any other bodies of water, be sure to check inside the car and trunk of any nearby vehicles.

 

Kids in Cool Cars

The danger of being left alone isn't limited to kids getting overheated. Simply leaving the car running and the air conditioning on doesn't make your child any safer, even if it is just for a few minutes. Your child might be abducted, put the car into drive, or even get caught in a closing power window. So use the drive-through if it is available or take your kids inside, even if you will just be a few minutes. Don't leave your kids alone in the car. It just isn't safe and it is actually against the law in many states.

 

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