Soaring Temperatures Can Lead to Hot Car Deaths
Parents should never leave their child in their vehicle. Five or 10 minutes can pass and the internal temperature of the vehicle can reach a dangerous level.
By Heather Duge
With the temperature reaching 104 the other day, I was shocked to see a toddler by himself in the car outside of a restaurant. I rushed inside and found his mom, who waited in line for her to go order. As soon as the mom unlocked the car and I knew the child was safe, I left but could not get this scenario out of my mind.
“There is no amount of time that is safe to leave a child in the car,” said Sharon Evans, RN, BSN, CPN, CPSTI, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s. “It’s not worth the risk to run into a restaurant because before you know it five or 10 minutes have gone by, and the temperature could have reached a dangerous level. If a child is left in the car and something happens, there is no way to justify it.”
Since May 1, MedStar emergency medical crews have responded to nine incidents where a child was left in a hot car. All were under 6 years old.
Only 20 states have laws that make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle – Texas being one of them. In only 10 minutes, a car’s temperature rises 19 degrees, and cracking windows has no effect. Since 1998, 920 children are known to have died in the U.S. of pediatric vehicular heatstroke (PVH), 13 of those deaths happening this year. Texas leads all states with 137 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths.
“When a core body temperature of 107 degrees or greater is reached, cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down,” Evans said. “A child’s thermoregulatory system is not as efficient as an adult’s and the body temperature warms at a rate three to five times faster.”
Sharon became part of the Texas Heatstroke Task Force which formed in 2011 after a Safe Kids Worldwide meeting. The Task Force provides heatstroke prevention education.
“Our goal is to provide awareness about pediatric vehicular heatstroke to prevent these deaths from happening,” said Johnny Humphreys, Texas Heatstroke Task Force Chair.
How Everyone Can Help Prevent Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke Deaths
Evans says that everyone needs to be aware of locking their car doors, because some kids, especially those with special needs, think of the car as their safe haven.
“Some children with autism find comfort from the vibration of the car, so they may escape to an unlocked vehicle,” Evans said. “The problem is that sometimes they can get into the car but not out of it.”
Besides locking doors, everyone can be on the lookout for children left in cars. The Texas Good Samaritan Law allows you to rescue a child in a hot car if five conditions are met.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers of Young Children
Research shows the majority of people are in overdrive and functioning on autopilot. Be on alert if there is a change in routine such as dad dropping off the child at daycare instead of mom and proactively plan for it. Leave an important belonging such as a shoe or purse in the backseat by the child so you automatically go there before walking away from the car.
“I know some couples who text each other every morning after dropping off their child at daycare,” Humphreys said. “That way if one parent doesn’t receive their daily text, they can double check to be sure the child is OK.”
ACT – Prevention Method
Avoid heatstroke-related injury by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even during a quick trip into a store. Always lock your doors and trunks — including in your driveway or garage. If a child is missing, check the pool and water sources first, then check vehicles, including trunks.
Create reminders. Keep a stuffed animal or other mementos in your child's seat when it's empty and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat. Or place and secure your phone, briefcase or purse in the backseat when traveling.
“One kind of memory is based on repetitive actions,” Humphreys said. “By using one of these methods every time you drive the car, it will become a habit.”
Take Action. If you see a child alone in a car, take action. Call 911.
Good Samaritan Law in Texas for removing certain persons from a vehicle (texas.gov)
About Cook Children's
Cook Children’s Health Care System embraces an inspiring Promise – to improve the health of every child through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re proud of our long and rich tradition of serving our community. Our not-for-profit organization is comprised of nine companies, including our Medical Center, Physician Network, Home Health company, Northeast Hospital, Pediatric Surgery Center, Health Plan, Health Services Inc., Child Study Center and Health Foundation. With more than 60 primary, specialty and urgent care locations throughout Texas, families can access our top-ranked specialty programs and network of services to meet the unique needs of their child. For 100 years, we’ve worked to improve the health of children from across our primary service area of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties. We combine the art of caring with leading technology and extraordinary collaboration to provide exceptional care for every child. This has earned Cook Children’s a strong, far-reaching reputation with patients traveling from around the country and the globe to receive life-saving pediatric care. For more information, visit cookchildrens.org.