It’s a story that we unfortunately have all heard. A child being left in a car and suffocating, suffering heat stroke and/or being critically injured or killed. I think we all have thought the same thing upon first thought. “Wow, that is terrible. It would NEVER happen to me. I would NEVER do that.” But, did you know that over half of the heat stroke deaths that occur are because the caregiver forgot the child was in the car? And approximately 30% of the deaths that occur happen because the child got in the car without a caregiver knowing and couldn’t get out.
You may wonder how anyone could EVER forget their child was in the car. But think for a moment of a parent or caregiver who is lacking sleep or maybe that person is not used to having a child in the car with them and that child falls asleep. These things happen to GOOD people. (We will talk about this more in a minute).
On average 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat related deaths while being trapped inside a car. That is 38 too many! (More than 70% of heat stroke deaths happen in children under the age of two). Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle related deaths for children. “On average a child dies or is critically injured every 8-10days from heatstroke in a vehicle). It is time to raise awareness and talk about ways to prevent this from ever happening.
First, let’s talk about intentionally leaving your child in the car. Approximately 20% of deaths occur because a child was intentionally left in the car. (Leaving a sleeping baby in the car, running into a store, leaving children playing in car while running errands etc…)
Leaving your child alone in the car is not okay on ANY day, in ANY weather or for ANY amount of time. Cracking the windows and parking in the shade do not make a car cool enough to prevent heat stroke. A car can reach 110 degrees when the weather is only in the 60s!! Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees. For example: “On a day that is only 72 degrees (Fahrenheit), the temperature inside of a car can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in one hour. And 70% of that increase happens in the first 30 minutes.
Cars heat up quickly. There is NO EXCEPTION to the rule of NEVER leaving your child in the car unattended. No matter how brief. A car heats up approximately 20 degrees in 10 minutes. If you have ever been in a hot car you know how uncomfortable it is. A child’s body temperatures increases three to five times faster than adults. Children have also not developed the ability to cool themselves through sweating as well as adults. Even a few moments in a hot car can be deadly.
Many parents don’t understand how sick a child can get and how quickly it happens when being left in a car. Heat stroke occurs when a body passes 104 degrees. Reaching internal temperatures of 107 can be deadly. Heat stroke overwhelms the brain’s temperature control. It can cause things like dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizures, loss of consciousness and/or death.
I have asked myself this question, as I’m sure you have too. How do you forget there is a child in a car??!! It’s easier than any of us can imagine. Professor Mark McDaniels from the University of Washington at St. Louis says this,
“The memory is faced with a challenge when it needs to remember something that you don’t do every day, such as take your child to school,” McDaniel says. For instance, maybe Mom usually does that, but for some reason, Dad takes the task for the day, he says.
“If the child has fallen asleep in their car seat, which is usually behind the driver’s seat, there is no visual information to remind you that there is a kid to drop off and if you have not done it day in and day out, you need a cue,” McDaniel says. “These are not bad parents, but people who don’t have a good understanding of their memory system.”
Another danger is children wandering into a parents car or playing in a parents car and not being able to get out. To prevent this, always keep keys and remote openers out of the reach of children. Keep your car locked at all times. If a child goes missing, immediately check the car including the trunk. Keep garage doors closed and locked if possible at all times. Share information with your neighbors and friends and ask them to keep their cars locked and safe at all times.
Let’s talk about some tips on how to keep your kids safe from heat stroke and other car related injuries!
TOP TIPS TO KEEP YOUR KIDS SAFE: (No specific order)
- NEVER leave a child alone in a car, even for a moment.
- Use drive-through services whenever available (banks,pharmacies,dry cleaners, pay at pump gas etc…)
- Create reminders for yourself when you put a child in their car seat. (Take off a shoe and leave it by the child, leave your purse or cell phone by the child, etc… something that you would not leave in the car)
- Prevent children from wandering into or playing in a car. Never let your child play in the car. Always make sure all doors are locked when no one is in the car and keep car keys out of reach. Check cars first if a child goes missing (Including the trunk).
- Make sure any daycare, babysitter or family member who will be driving with your child knows your strict policy of not leaving a child unattended in the car. Don’t be afraid to call to check in to make sure your child got home or to a location safely.
- Use the “Look before you Lock” reminder. Make it a habit to always open the back door of the car and do a quick check to make sure no child was left behind.
- Remember, during busy times (holidays, times of stress, crisis etc…) tragedies are more likely to occur. Be especially careful at these times.
- Never hesitate to get involved if you see a child left alone in a car. Call 911 immediately! If the child seems hot, sick or isn’t responding to taping on the window or yelling get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
- Share these tips and spread awareness with friends, family, caregivers etc… you can NEVER be too careful or too cautious.