With summer temperatures expected to rise, it is vital not to leave children and pets inside an automobile. The temperatures inside a car on a warm summer day can be absolutely deadly.
Approximately 40 children die each year in the U.S. from vehicular heatstroke, as reported by KidsAndCars.org and NoHeatStroke.org. Excluding automobile accidents, heatstroke is the leading cause of vehicle death for children under age 15. Surprisingly, a child can die of heat stroke on a 70-degree, sunny day if left unattended in a car with the windows up.
Children and pets can fall prey to the heat inside of a car on a hot day, even with the window cracked open. Children and pets can’t regulate their body temperatures well. In kids, heat stroke can occur at temperatures of 104 degrees. Death can occur at 107 degrees. On a 90-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily and rapidly increase to over 180 degrees.
The shame is that more than 50% of all children who die in hot cars were left there because their caregivers simply forgot they were in the vehicle. These are not malicious people trying to hurt children. These are terribly tragic events that can be prevented.
Most small children are placed in rear car seats when their caregivers drive out. Fortunately, automobile-integrated heat stroke prevention technology has found its way into many new automobiles. Cars can remind parents that they might be leaving a child or pet inside a vehicle.
Some can detect rear doors opening before a trip (rear-seat reminder systems). Other heat stroke prevention systems use ultrasound and motion detectors to continually sense motion inside a vehicle even after the engine has been turned off.
Vehicle-integrated heat stroke prevention technology will soon become the standard in all new cars. Be sure to ask about these options when purchasing a vehicle. For older cars lacking this “alert” technology, experts recommend placing something that needs to be retrieved, such as a purse, wallet, keys, or cell phone, next to the child. When you arrive at your destination, you will be reminded that your child is in the backseat and they need to leave the vehicle with you.
Another 25% of child-in-car deaths result from children who gained access to a car by themselves. Parents working at home with children engaged in distance learning or on summer break need to be extra vigilant to keep vehicles locked with the keys secured out of children’s reach. If you don’t have children, take these precautions for your neighbors’ sake.
What should you do if you see a child or pet unattended in a car?
If you see a child or a pet inside a car on a warm or sunny day, immediately call 911. Different measures must be taken if the child or pet appears distressed. Immediately call 911. But you may need to take other actions if the child or pet is in trouble.
Good Samaritan laws vary by state as to whether you can break a window or not, but spotting a distressed child or pet in a car alone is not the time to worry about that. The best advice is to call 911 and then take any life-saving action that is required.
Parents and others must remain alert to the continuous danger of children and pets playing and dying in hot automobiles. In many parts of the country, heatstroke is a four-season threat. Even on days with mild temperatures, the warmth inside a closed car can reach dangerous levels within minutes, presenting significant health risks to children or pets inside.
Consumer Reports magazine has demonstrated that, on a sunny day, with an outside temperature of just 61 degrees, a car’s interior temperature can reach 105 degrees in one hour. Recently a child died of heat stroke when the outside temperature was a mere 78 degrees.
Contrary to some beliefs, the interior color has little effect on temperature moderation. All shades of car interiors get hot. Additionally, parking a car in the shade offers little-to-no protection against overheating.
Leaving a child or pet unattended in a vehicle is NEVER safe, even for just a short time. If your child is missing, remember to check your pool. If you don’t have a pool, check your car and your car’s trunk.
Remember, a child or a pet dying in a hot car is entirely preventable.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of biology at Carleton College. He also has a private practice, Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan, MN.
He received his MD and Master’s Degree in molecular biology and
genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Minnesota Medicine recognized Dr. Crutchfield as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. Dr. Crutchfield specializes in
skin-of-color and has been selected by physicians and nurses as one of the leading dermatologists in Minnesota for the past 18 years.
He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. He can be reached at CrutchfieldDermatology.com or by calling 651-209-3600.