Keeping Kids Safe from Heat Injuries in Hot Cars This Summer
Although the state enjoys warm weather most of the year, the temperatures in Florida rise substantially during the spring and summer months. Some of us enjoy the heat, but hot, humid weather poses serious health risks, especially for children.
Never leave a child unaccompanied in a vehicle – even for a “just a few minutes.” It is illegal in Florida to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Children who are left in hot vehicles, even for a short period of time, can potentially suffer catastrophic injuries or die.
One such tragedy happened in our area earlier this month when a 16-month-old girl died after being left in a hot car for hours in Columbia County. The death happened May 12 in a residential area of Lake City, according to a report by News 4 JAX.
Hazards Children Face When Left in Cars During Florida’s Hot Spring & Summer Months
Children can quickly overheat in a hot car, as the temperature of a smaller body increases between three and five times faster than a larger body in the same conditions. Children are unable to regulate internal body temperature as well as adults, and cracking a window is not sufficient protection.
When an adult becomes too warm, he or she can turn on the air conditioning or simply get out of the car. A baby or young child is secured in a car seat with no method of escape. This can turn a vehicle into a virtual death trap.
The interior temperature of a vehicle in direct sunlight can increase to 131 to 172 degrees Fahrenheit when external temperatures are in the range of 80 to 100 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Even when the temperature is around 60 degrees outside, a vehicle’s interior could reach 100 degrees.
As the temperature in a closed vehicle will rise by an average of 19 degrees in just the first 10 minutes, leaving a child unattended for even a few minutes in a hot vehicle can be deadly.
During Florida’s hot spring and summer months, life-threatening temperatures can be reached in a matter of moments. When a child’s body reaches 104 degrees, he or she may experience heatstroke symptoms. When a person’s body temperature reaches 107 degrees, it can be lethal.
Vehicle-Related Heat Injury and Death Statistics
According to statistics from KidsAndCars.org, an average of one child dies every nine days as a result of vehicular heatstroke. Since 1998, an average of 38 children per year suffer fatal vehicle-related heatstroke injuries. In Florida, approximately 60 children became vehicular heatstroke fatality victims between 1990 and 2010.
Other facts include:
- 16 percent of non-traffic fatalities involving children under the age of 15 are caused by heatstroke.
- 24 percent of non-fatal, non-traffic incidents involving children are caused by a child being left alone in a hot vehicle.
- 586 children were killed between 1990 and 2010 as a result of vehicular heatstroke as compared to 184 children who lost their lives due to over-powered airbags in the front passenger seat.
Statistics from Parents magazine indicate that out of all the children who die each year from heatstroke after being left in a car:
- 20 percent are left by a parent who wanted to run a “quick” errand.
- 30 percent enter the vehicle without their parents’ knowledge and can’t get out on their own.
- 52 percent are accidentally left in the car.
- More than 50 percent are children under the age of 2.
How to Prevent Kids from Being Accidentally Left in the Car
Most parents are confident that they could never accidentally leave a child in the car. Who could ever forget to take their child out of the car? Even the most caring and attentive parents can be lulled by the silence of a sleeping baby, or momentarily distracted to the point of forgetfulness. In these situations the unfortunate outcome is frequently serious injury or death.
Parents and caregivers can take specific actions to dramatically reduce the chances of accidentally leaving a child in a hot car. Safekids.org recommends parents “ACT” to minimize vehicle-related heatstroke deaths:
- A: Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, even for a minute. It is too easy to become distracted, take longer than you originally intended or get delayed. Temperatures in a vehicle rise quickly during spring and summer months, so make it a habit to always take your child with you. It is also important to keep your vehicle locked when not in use, even when it is parked in your own garage, as this can help prevent kids from climbing inside without your knowledge.
- C: Create a reminder for yourself by placing your briefcase, purse, cell phone or other item you will need in the backseat with your child. This way you will be sure to open the back doors when you arrive at your destination, reminding you to get your child safely out of the vehicle. This trick works particularly well at times when your normal routine has been disrupted. Getting into the habit of looking before you lock can also prevent accidentally leaving a child in the car.
- T: Take action. If you ever see a child who has been left unattended in a vehicle, call 911 immediately. Emergency personnel are well-equipped to handle situations like this and your quick response could save the child’s life.