It doesn’t have to be a hot summer day for a hot car-related injury or death to occur. It can get up to 50 degrees higher than the outside air temperature inside a car, and if a child is left in a hot car for even a short time, the consequences can be deadly.
Already this year, there have been more than 10 hot car deaths reported in the U.S.
Since 1998, more than 800 children nationwide — including 20 in Kentucky— have died while left unattended in hot vehicles. According to NoHeatStroke.org, more than half of car-related child heat stroke deaths occur because parents or caregivers become distracted and exit their vehicle without their child, while nearly 30% percent occur because a child playing in an unattended vehicle becomes trapped.
According to Jennifer L. Segeleon, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Lakeview, children are more vulnerable than adults to the extreme temperature in a hot car.
“They do not have an efficient thermoregulatory system; therefore their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than adults,” Dr. Segeleon said. “They do not sweat as well and they have more surface area relative to volume, which increases their heat exposure in a shorter period of time.”
Within 10 minutes, the inside of a vehicle can be 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature; after 30 minutes, the vehicle’s interior can be up to 34 degrees hotter. A child’s temperature may rise to 106 degrees within 15 minutes of being left inside a hot car. At a core body temperature of 107 degrees, a child can die.
“Cracking a window in extreme heat is not a solution,” Dr. Segeleon said.
How to prevent hot car deaths
Deaths of children left in hot cars can happen when working people have a change in their morning routine. Sharon Rengers, R.N., child advocate at Norton Children’s Hospital, advises parents and caregivers to put prevention strategies into place, such as:
- Choose an item that is needed at your next stop — a cellphone or purse, for example — and place it on the floor in front of the child in the back seat.
- Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car.
- Set the alarm on your cellphone as a reminder to drop off your child at school or day care.
- Arrange for your child’s school or day care provider to call you if your child does not show up.
- Set your computer calendar to remind you with a question such as, “Did you drop off at child care today?”
- Finally, parents and caregivers should make sure children cannot gain entrance into vehicles on their own. Keep vehicles locked and teach children not to play in them.
Norton Children’s Medical Group
“The car should never be treated as a play area for children,” Dr. Segeleon said. “Even with close adult supervision, we should never give our kids the impression that it is OK to play in the car.”
Immediately call 911 if you see an unattended child in a car.