The above are all headlines from the last couple weeks and we are bound to see more.
As of July 8th, sixteen children have died of heatstroke as a result of being left in vehicles. Twelve of those are confirmed while four are pending official reports by the medical examiners. These children range from nine months to five-years-old, and come from all parts of the nation. This number is due to rise. In 2012, 34 heatstroke deaths of children in cars were reported and in 2013, the number of incidents tragically rose to 44.
It seems ridiculous to have to remind people not to leave or forget their children in their vehicles in the heat of summer, yet every year we hear about children dying from heatstroke (hyperthermia) for this very reason. The weather doesn’t even have to be exceedingly hot. This can happen even when the temperature is in the low seventies.
There have been over 600 documented heatstroke car deaths of children since 1998, over half of these under the age of two. Of documented fatalities:
- 51% of the children were “forgotten” by their caregiver (312 Children).
- 29% of the children were playing unattended in the vehicle (177).
- 18% of the children were intentionally left in the vehicle by an adult (111).
- 1% of the circumstances are unknown (6).
Heatstroke occurs when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A core body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit or higher can be deadly. This is when your cells become damaged and your internal organs begin to shut down. A child’s body temperature rises faster than an adult’s. So take this into consideration:
In 80 degree weather a car will be 80 degrees.
- In 10 minutes it will hit 99 degrees.
- In 20 minutes it will be 109 degrees.
- By 40 minutes it will be 118 degrees.
- After an hour the car will be 123 degrees.
Even in 60 degree weather a car can reach temperatures of up to 110 degrees, and heatstroke deaths have occurred when vehicles are parked in the shade as well. Also, cracking windows does nothing to prevent these fatalities.
Objects in the vehicle can reach even hotter temperatures. A dark dashboard, or child seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. These objects in turn heat the air inside the car like a convection oven.
Let’s not forget, this goes for our four legged furry friends too.
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, EVER!
- Ensure all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Do not leave sleeping babies in the vehicle.
- Do not let children play in vehicles. Teach them that it is not a play area and always lock your car and make certain children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.
- If a child is missing, always check the pool first if you have one, then the car, including the trunk.
- Use visual clues to help you remember you have a child in the backseat.
- Place a stuffed animal in the front passenger seat with the driver.
- Place your purse or briefcase in the backseat with your child.
- Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.
- Make it a habit to look in the front and back seat before locking the car door and be vigilant about it.
Safecar.gov offers the following advice if you see a young child locked in a parked car for more than 5 minutes:
- First make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
- If the child appears okay, you should attempt to locate the parents; or have the facility’s security or management page the car owner over the PA system.
- If there is someone with you, one person should actively search for the parent while the other waits at the car.
- If the child is not responsive and appears in great distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child, even if that means breaking a window.
- If the child is in distress due to heat, get the child out of the car as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly (not in an ice bath) by spraying the child with cool water.
Keep in mind, if this happens to you, not only do you risk losing your child, you also risk prison time. You could get off with a misdemeanor if they’re not seriously injured, but if they are, or worse, they die, you could be facing felony charges for Child Endangerment or Murder
Much of this information was provided by Jan Null, CCM, Department of Geoscience, San Francisco State University. There is more information, reports, graphs and statistics at their Department of Geoscience website.
You can find a full report about Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If you’d like to get involved in spreading the word about heatstroke fatalities of children in vehicles you can visit the safercar.gov website for more information, templates and reports.