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.
A parent dashes into a store, becomes preoccupied and loses track of time. A caregiver is distracted by a demanding schedule. Meanwhile, a child left inside a vehicle can too easily be forgotten.
Since 1998, nearly 700 children nationwide — 16 in Kentucky — have died from heat stroke while left unattended in vehicles. Kentucky ranks 12th worst in that category. Indiana has reported nine deaths during that time, placing the Hoosier state 34th. More than half of child heat stroke deaths occur because parents or caregivers become distracted and exit their vehicle without their child. Thirty percent occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle and became trapped.
“Children are particularly at risk in the hot summer months,” said Jennifer L. Segeleon, M.D., pediatrician. “They do not have an efficient thermoregulatory system, therefore their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than adults. 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.”
It takes just 10 minutes for the temperature inside a vehicle to rise up to 20 degrees. On an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a closed car quickly can exceed 100 degrees. If a child is left inside even for a few minutes, the consequences can be deadly. At 104 degrees, a child’s internal organs start to shut down. At 107 degrees, the child can die.
“Cracking a window in extreme heat is not a solution,” Dr. Segeleon said.
It does not even have to be very hot outside for a car to heat up to a dangerous level. Light shining in through the windows stays inside and raises the temperature.
Half the deaths of children left in hot cars 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.
“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.