Summer arrived this week, and brought with it 100+ degree heat indexes across Maryland. Each year as temperatures rise, it doesn’t take long for the news stories to return, “Infant dies of heat stroke after being left in car”…”Parent forgets baby in car, resulting in heatstroke death.”
It’s horrifying, and generally raises a number of questions, “How does that happen? How can you forget your child is in the car?”
The Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University (SFSU) reports that since 1998, 532 children have died in the U.S. due to hyperthermia, after being left in a car…eight of those cases here in Maryland.
Even when there’s not a fatality involved, brain damage, loss of hearing and/or blindness can occur if a child is exposed to extreme heat, and their body temperature rises above 104 degrees.
So how does this happen? Sometimes it’s a situation where a child climbs into an unlocked car to play, and is overcome by the heat. But SFSU’s studies show that children one-year old or younger make up 53% of these fatalities, most often forgotten in the back seat by a parent or caregiver.
How many times have you driven into work in the morning on “auto-pilot” after a rough night of sleep? For parents of infants, a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by. It’s not difficult to see how a sleep-deprived parent can forget to make the turn to the babysitter house and, if the child is sleeping or very quiet, they could make it all the way to work and leave the car without realizing that their child was still in the back seat.
In just ten minutes, a car’s temperature can rise 19 degrees, and will continue to go up by almost a degree per minute after that. On a mild 75 degree day, the internal car temperature can reach 109 degrees within a half hour. It doesn’t take long for a child to be at risk. Imagine how hot a car can get in temperatures like the Mid-Atlantic region is experiencing this week.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a “Look Before You Lock” campaign to remind drivers to check the back seats. Here are some of their suggestions for making sure this doesn’t happen to you or your child:
Check the back seat. The simplest way to prevent this is to get in the habit of always checking your back seat before leaving the car.
Give yourself a reminder. Keep a stuffed animal or diaper bag in your field of view in the front seat. Or leave your briefcase, badge, or other item necessary for work, in the back seat with your child. Another idea is to wear a wristband when you put the child in the car, then only remove it once you’ve dropped them off. Figure out what system works for reminding you when you have your child in the car, and stick to it.
Have a plan with you babysitter. Arrange for your daycare provider to call you if your child hasn’t arrived at their location by a certain time. That call could be the reminder that saves your child’s life.
Keep your keys out of reach. Make sure your cars are always locked and the keys are out of the reach of children. Kids love to play in cars and pretend to drive. If they close the door, and you’re unaware that they are in there, your child could be at risk of overheating within ten minutes.
Never leave your child in the car intentionally! Most of these tips are to help parents avoid leaving a child in the car by accident. Unfortunately, 17% of hyperthermia deaths since 1998 have been due to a parent intentionally leaving their child in vehicles. You should never leave your child in the car, unattended. Even with the windows cracked, there is not enough air moving to keep the temperatures from rising. “Quick trips” into the store can be just long enough to put your child in danger. (And in most states, depending on the age of the child, it’s illegal to leave them unattended, regardless of the outside temperature).
Keep your eyes open in parking lots. Even if you don’t have a child, you can help prevent this situation. Pay attention as you walk through any parking lot. Keep your eyes open for anything that looks out of the ordinary. If you see a child in a car, unattended, please call 911 right away. Every minute counts!
And please remember, the same goes for our four-legged friends too. Heatstroke is just as dangerous for animals as it is for children.
In the time this article went from ‘draft’ to ‘published’ this week, the number of children who have died in 2012 from car-related hyperthermia went up from four to five. Sadly, this is a very preventable situation. It only takes a second to check the back seat. That second could save your child’s life…or change yours forever.
(sources: San Francisco State University, NHTSA.gov)