Warmer weather is fast approaching and with it comes the seemingly inevitable news that a child has died from heat stroke while trapped in a vehicle. It has been known to happen in February if the temperature reaches the low 70’s. But typically around the middle or end of March we hear of the first event of the year – a disturbing, horrific incident of an infant or toddler dying from being trapped in a sweltering car. The risks and causes of these hyperthermia deaths are well-known, and this tragic mishap occurred 33 times in 2011.
An examination of media reports about the 494 child vehicular hyperthermia deaths for a thirteen year period (1998 through 2011) shows the following circumstances:
- 52% – child “forgotten” by caregiver (253 Children)
- 30% – child playing in unattended vehicle (150)
- 17% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (86)
- 1% – circumstances unknown (5)
Children that have died from vehicular hyperthermia in the United States (1998-2011) have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age, and about two thirds are children under the age of 6. Parents running quick errands may think their cars will remain cool; but even on mild days, temperatures inside vehicles can rise to dangerous levels in just minutes. A young child’s core body temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult, causing permanent injury and even death.
The family car parked in the driveway can also be dangerous. Unlocked cars pose serious risks to children who are naturally curious and often lack fear. Once they crawl in, young children often don’t have the developmental capability to get out. About one-third of heat-related deaths occur when children crawl into unlocked cars while playing and become trapped.
Here are some tips on protecting your children:
- Never leave your child in an unattended car, even with the windows down, even for a few minutes.
- Check to make sure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination, particularly when loading and unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping infants.
- Make sure you check the temperature of the child safety seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining your children in the car.
- Use a light covering to shade the seat of your parked car. Consider using windshield shades in front and back windows.
- Teach children not to play in or around cars.
- Keep car keys out of reach and sight.
- Always lock car doors and trunks, especially when parked in the driveway or near the home.
- Keep the rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent kids from getting into the trunk from inside the car.
- Be wary of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how to disable the driver’s door locks if they unintentionally become entrapped in a motor vehicle.
- Contact your automobile dealership about getting your vehicle retrofitted with a trunk release mechanism.
- If your child gets locked inside a car, get him out and dial 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately.
Let’s make summer a fun and happy time with no tragedies of children being left unattended in parked cars