Leaving kids in cars is just as dangerous in the cold

Hypothermia can happen in minutes

We see the stories every year about kids being left in hot cars. But cold winter weather is just as dangerous for a child left in a vehicle.

“Just like a child’s body can heat to a deadly temperature in a matter of minutes, the reverse effect can happen in the cold,” said Sharon Rengers, R.N., Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness. “Because of their smaller body mass, young children are more prone to heat loss and hypothermia than adults. Kids also have less fat, which can help serve as protective insulation.”

Parents may assume a child is safer in the car

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Common symptoms of severe hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech and a slowed pulse. Sitting still in a small, confined space can lead to hypothermia faster. That’s another reason why leaving a child confined to a cold car is so dangerous.

Child safety

Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness offers free car seat checks.

Rengers said unlike in the heat, many kids left in cold cars are done so intentionally because parents think the child will be safer there than outside.

“Some adults running a presumably quick errand may mistakenly think their children are better off left in a well-warmed car than taken out into the bitter cold, but that car turns cold quickly,” she said. “Just make it a rule to never, ever leave any living creature alone in your car, regardless of the temperature.”