Record high temperatures have hit many parts of the country this summer and their devastating effects have too often impacted children. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research shows the risk of a serious injury or death during hot weather is heightened for children left alone in vehicles. Hyperthermia (heatstroke) is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of fourteen.
Hyperthermia occurs when a person’s body temperature rises and remains above the normal; 98.6°F. A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s. Children left in hot vehicles can suffer from a variety of symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, elevated heart rate, brain damage and confusion. Ultimately, coma and death may occur.
“Even on a partly sunny day, your vehicle can heat up quickly inside,” said Amy Stracke, Managing Director, Traffic Safety Advocacy for AAA – The Auto Club Group and Executive Director of the Auto Club Group Traffic Safety Foundation. “Children should never be left alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.”
Unfortunately, many of these tragedies with children occur because the caregiver simply forgets they are in the back seat. Other risk factors include caregivers who aren’t used to driving children or whose routine suddenly changes, being sleep-deprived and distraction. While the majority of deaths are accidental, they are all preventable.
- Make it a Habit – Before locking your vehicle, check the front and back seat.
- Set an Alarm – Consider adding an alarm to your phone that will go off to remind you to check your vehicle.
- Caregiver Assistance – If you normally drop your child off at a babysitter or daycare, ask the caregiver to call you if your child doesn’t arrive on time for childcare.
- Add a Reminder– Put your purse/wallet or cell phone in the back seat. This way you are reminded to look in the back seat before leaving the vehicle.
- Don’t Leave Them Alone – Never leave infants or children unattended in a vehicle—even if the windows are open or the air conditioning is running.
- Vehicles Aren’t Play Areas – Don’t let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them a vehicle is not the right place to play.
- Put Keys Out of Sight – Always lock your vehicle and keep keys out of children’s reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.