According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death among children. Even great parents can forget a child in the back seat. Other risk factors include caregivers who aren’t used to driving kids or whose routine suddenly changes, or a child slips away to play in the vehicle and becomes trapped.
Along with the NHTSA, the National Child Passenger Safety Board, a program managed by the National Safety Council, would like to draw attention to National Heat Stroke Awareness Day this July 31st. Since 1998, there have been 684 deaths in the United States from adults leaving a child in a hot vehicle. Noheatstroke.org informs that the children whom have died from vehicular heat stroke in the United States (1998-2015) have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age. So far this year, the United States has seen 23 children die for this reason. From 1998 to 2015, 30 of these children have been in Arizona.
WebMD states that heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature is greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures. They continue to say that heat stroke can kill or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. Jan Null, CCM, and founder of noheatstroke.org, warns that children’s thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult’s and their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. The NHTSA stresses that heat stroke can occur even with outside temperatures as low as the 60s. With external temps in the 60s the interior of a car can heat up above 110 degrees. The NHTSA also states that a car can heat up by 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, so children should not be left in a vehicle for any period of time, no matter how quick you think your stop may be.
The NHTSA “Look Before You Lock” campaign offers this advice to protect children from vehicular heat stroke:
- NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE. Not even for a minute!
- If you see a child unattended in a hot vehicle CALL 9-1-1!
- Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.
- Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. Teach children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
- IF A CHILD IS MISSING, ALWAYS CHECK THE POOL FIRST, AND THEN THE CAR, INCLUDING THE TRUNK.
- Keep a stuffed animal in the car-seat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver. Or place your purse, briefcase or cell phone in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
- Make “look before you lock” a routine whenever you get out of the car.
- Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.
Taking Action if You See a Child Alone in a Car
The NHTSA stresses that if you see a child alone in a car, don’t worry about getting involved in someone else’s business—protecting children is everyone’s business.
- Don’t wait more than a few minutes for the driver to return.
- If the child is not responsive or is in distress, immediately:
- Call 911.
- Get the child out of the car.
- Spray the child with cool water (not in an ice bath).
- If the child is responsive:
- Stay with the child until help arrives.
- Have someone else search for the driver or ask the facility to page them.
Warning Signs of Heat Stroke
According to WebMB, the hallmark symptom of heat stroke is a core body temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. But fainting may be the first sign. Other symptoms include:
- Throbbing headache
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Lack of sweating despite the heat
- Red, hot, and dry skin
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
Vehicular heat stroke is 100% preventable. If at any point you see a child left in a vehicle, don’t forget to “act fast and save a life.” And, if you are a parent, or someone who is responsible for transporting children at any time, always remember to “look before you lock.” Let’s keep our kids safe not only this summer, but all year, every year.