Summer has brought record high heat to many parts of the country, and with it, many tragic cases of children dying from being left or trapped in hot cars.
As AccuWearther reports, 20 children have already died as a result of heat stroke from hot cars in the U.S. so far this year. Last year, a total of 33 children perished as a result of being left in hot cars, reports Jan Null, Certified Consulting Meteorologist at San Francisco State University. WebMDnotes that 600 kids have died since 1990. Many, if not all, of these tragic deaths could have been prevented.
It’s important that parents and caregivers know about the particular heating dynamics of cars. Life-threatening temperatures can be reached quickly inside a hot car, a matter of minutes in many cases. According to a study done by Null that recorded in just 10 minutes, a car's temperature can increase by 19 degrees. In one to two hours, that increase can be between 45 and 50 degrees.
Windows and car interiors are big factors that contribute to increased heat. Windows act as heat conductors and can result in rapid temperature increases inside a vehicle. AccuWeather meteorologist Michael Pigott says temperatures inside the car can easily rise to twice the outdoor temperature.
While you may think the color of car contributes to how quickly it heats up, it’s actually the color of the car's interior that is the determining factor. Cars with dark interior, such as black leather, heat up the quickest. Due to their dark colors, steering wheels and dashboards also increase a vehicle’s interior temperature, with the ability to hit temperatures of 200 degrees, then radiate even more heat.
Dr. Nathan Allen, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at the University of Chicago, says, “There is no safe amount of time to leave children alone in the car. Kids are more susceptible and at higher risk for heat-related illness and injury than adults because their bodies make more heat relative to their size and their abilities to cool through sweating are not as developed as adults.” This means even a few minutes can be extremely dangerous — even fatal — for a small child.
The easiest solution is to never, ever, leave a child in a hot car. In many states , it is illegal to leave a child unattended. They include: California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
In many cases, tragedy strikes when kids are left unattended because the driver forgot the child was there — or when kids get into unlocked cars without any adult knowing it happened.
Although we all think this could never happen to us, psychology professor Mark McDaniel, PhD, at the University of Washington at St. Louis, explains how it could happen to anyone.
"The memory is faced with a challenge when it needs to remember something that you don’t do every day, such as take your child to school. Maybe Mom usually does that, but for some reason, Dad takes the task for the day. If the child has fallen asleep in their car seat, which is usually behind the driver’s seat, there is no visual information to remind you that there is a kid to drop off and if you have not done it day in and day out, you need a cue. These are not bad parents, but people who don’t have a good understanding of their memory system."
Follow these tips below to keep children safe:
1. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle for any length of time, no exceptions.
2. If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, call 911 immediately, or get them out of the car if necessary.
3. Always lock your car when it’s empty so kids can’t get in without you knowing.
4. Always give yourself a visual reminder when a child is in the back seat. Place a child’s toy on your front seat, or put a cell phone, purse, or briefcase in the backseat.
5. Make certain that anyone caring for or transporting your child (such as school bus drivers) are aware of safety precautions.