When Kids Are Left Inside Hot Cars

Children overheating in cars can happen anywhere, and quickly. While the whole country is currently basking in mild temperatures, everyone needs to consider the possibility of this horrific accident.

Even with the windows rolled down a bit on a sunny day with temperatures in the "mild" 70s, a parked car's interior can reach 125 degrees in minutes! Temperatures in the range of 140 degrees to 170 degrees are even possible, particularly as the outside temperature rises. And, as I've said in earlier blogs, a child’s body temperature rises at a rate of up to 5 times faster than an adult’s so they are at great risk of overheating quickly when exposed to these temperatures.

Common sense?

So isn't it just common sense not to leave a small child in the car?

Well, yes and no, but this potential tragedy happens so frequently that it can't be merely a matter of good or bad sense. Every year since 1998, around 38 children have died from being trapped inside a hot car. More than half of them are age 2 years or younger.

Common reasons given by parents for leaving a child in a car

  • The child was playing unsupervised in an empty car.
  • The parent or caregiver intentionally left the child in the car while they ran a “quick errand.”
    Often, parents don’t want to wake a sleeping child just to run into a store. The moral here is, Either wake the child up, or don’t run the errand!
  • The parent accidentally left the child in the car. The parents simply forgot that the child was back there and drove on to work.
    Forgot how, you ask? This tragedy is more apt to happen if there's been a change in routine that gets mixed in with the usual morning interruptions and hubbub. A website called Kids and Cars.org lists lack of sleep and stress (in the adult) as 2 more contributors. "When these factors combine," says this website, "the ability for the brain to multi-task is diminished. And young children often fall asleep in their car seats, becoming quiet. In the case of rear facing car seats, they may look the same with or without an occupant."

One way to keep from forgetting a child in the backseat

I have run across, however, one excellent method that a parent can use, even on the most distracting of days, to remind them that their child is behind them in the backseat. In fact, this method seems to me like the only one I've heard about that would be fail-safe. Here it is:

  • Take your purse, agenda book, and cell phone--everything, in fact, that you're going to need to bring into your office with you--and arrange them on the backseat all around your child's car seat.

I've run across several other strategies, but none seems as infallible as taking all your office stuff and piling it around your beloved baby in the backseat.

What kills?

The cause of death or injury to a child in an overheated car is heat stroke. Being in an overheated car is very different from having a fever, where the body is monitoring and controlling the temperature's highest point. Inside a closed automobile, the body's temperatures can rise above 104°F or 105°F, and then just keep on rising. At these extreme temperatures, the child may become delirious, start to vomit, have seizures, or go into a coma.

If your child or someone else’s has gotten overheated in a car (or anywhere else for that matter)

  • Remove the child from the heat.
  • Seek shade or a cool place.
  • Fan the child, if possible.
  • Remove the child's clothing and apply cool water to the body--or immerse the child in a bathtub full of cool water.
  • Note this caution: Never apply ice-cold water to a heat victim. Water that is too cold can cause the child to start shivering, which can actually raise the body's temperature even higher.
  • Elevate the feet.
  • If the child is conscious, try to get them to drink some cool water.
  • Don’t give any fever medications. In this situation, they are useless.

Be on the lookout

If you see someone starting to leave a child unattended in the car, don’t hesitate to say something or call for help. And remember that the same thing can happen to pets left in cars; take the same precautions with them, too.

What to do if you find someone else's child in this situation?

If you see a child in distress through a car window:

  • break out one of the car's windows and (carefully) extricate the child immediately
  • call 911

Resources
Kids and Cars.org. Lots of safety tips concerning all things vehicular

Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? By Gene Weingarten, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, March 8, 2009. (Note: This article, although upsetting and intense, is useful for convincing readers that such an unbearable tragedy can certainly happen to anyone.)

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