Protecting children from heat stroke in the dog days of summer
July is the warmest month in Colorado, meaning now is an especially important time to prioritize keeping children safe from the hot rays of the sun.
According to KidsAndCars.org, a national organization that advocates for child safety, eight children have died in hot cars this year across the United States. In 2019, there were 53 hot car-related deaths.
Data shows that more than 900 child deaths have occurred in hot cars since 1990. About a quarter of them happened when the child gained access to the vehicle on their own, and 20 percent of the deaths happened when a caregiver knowingly left the child in the car. More than half of the time, though, the child was forgotten in the car by a caregiver.
“Even the best of parents or caregivers can overlook a sleeping baby in a car, and the end result can be injury or even death,” according to the organization.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, occurs when the body temperature rises to 105 degrees or higher, which causes neurological changes such as mental confusion or unconsciousness, according to Harvard Medical School.
In children, major organs begin to shut down when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees, and a child can die when body temperature reaches 107 degrees, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Because children’s thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult’s, their body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult’s, according to Noheatstroke.org, a project by San Jose State University.
How hot can a car get?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a car’s interior temperature can rise nearly 20 degrees within 10 minutes, even with a window cracked open. When temperatures outside are above 80 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172 degrees — deadly temperatures for children and adults.
About 80 percent of the temperature rise in a parked car happens within the first 30 minutes. A 2005 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that a car’s interior temperature can increase 40 degrees per hour, even if it’s only 72 degrees outside. Cracking the windows open did not decrease this rate of temperature rise.
Look before you lock
Just like habits for daily tasks such as closing your garage when you leave the house, bringing your mask to the grocery store or locking your front door, try to form similar habits when getting out of your car.
Kidsandcars.org suggests parents and caregivers take the following steps in order to prevent heat stroke tragedies from occurring in the Craig community this summer:
- Look before you lock your vehicle and get into the habit of checking the back seat before leaving.
- Put something you’ll need, like a cell phone, purse or wallet, in the back seat while driving.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When the child is in the seat, place the animal in the front seat as a visual reminder that the child is in the car.
- Keep cars locked at all times and keep keys out of reach of children.
- Use drive-thru services when available and pay for gas at the pump.
- If a child is missing, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests checking the pool first, and then the car — including the trunk.
“Protecting children is everyone’s business,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If you see an unattended child in a car and are concerned, you should immediately call 911.”
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