Know the risks of heatstroke


The most loving and attentive parents can even make mistakes. This includes accidentally forgetting their child in the back seat of the car. This is especially true with the rear-facing car seats. The problem is you can’t always see your children in the back seat. We’ve all heard them, stories about parents going to work and forgetting to drop their child off at daycare. 

The American Automobile Association said that 52 children died nationwide from heatstroke inside a vehicle in 2018. That is a 21 percent rise from 2017. There have already been 20 vehicular heat-related deaths of children this year, according to them. You have to be extra cautious when traveling with children. 

It just takes a few minutes for the interior of a car to heat up to a deadly level. A child’s temperature can rise up to three to five times quicker than an adult’s and on a 95-degree day, a vehicle can heat up to 180 degrees or even more.

Heatstroke is one of the top causes of fatalities among children not related to crashes. Vehicle heatstroke occurs when a child is left behind in a hot vehicle. This allows the child’s temperature to increase in a rapidly and frequently in a fatal way. Heatstroke starts when the body’s core temperature reaches around 104 degrees. A core body temperature of approximately 107 degrees is frequently fatal to children, but even the best of parents might forget they have a child in the back seat. Other people that can forget a child are caregivers that aren’t used to regularly driving children, or who suddenly has a routine change.

Parents, caregivers, bus drivers and anyone transporting children need to check before walking away from their parked vehicle. Temperatures on sunny summer days can climb to well over 100° F in no more than an hour. A child can suffer heat-related injuries or death according to Taylor and Francis Online.

Researchers at both the Arizona State University and the University of California, San Diego looked at the interior temperatures of six vehicles. They checked two each of identical light-colored economy cars, minivans and mid-size sedans for three days. The temperature reached one hundred degrees Fahrenheit on those days. Mimicking a shopping trip, the groups parked the cars in both the sun and the shade for about an hour and then moved each vehicle into the sunshine. They used the air conditioner to control the temperature. Researchers did this three to five times daily.

Their findings showed interior temperatures for cars that were parked in the sun for an hour were an average of 116° F, and the temperatures were even hotter on the seats (123° F), dashboard (157° F) and steering wheel (127° F). For the vehicles that were parked in the shade, the interior temperatures averaged around 100° F, 107° F on the steering wheel, 105° F on the seats and 118° F on the dashboard.

Everyone who has gone back to their car on a hot day can understand this. They probably found it difficult to touch the steering wheel. Just think about what that feels like to a child strapped into a car seat. When you put a person in a hot car, they are also exhaling humidity into the air. Increased humidity makes it more difficult for a person to cool down because their sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly. The combination of heat and humidity could cause difficulty breathing. Ask me. I suffer from COPD and there are a few days this summer that have required me to stay in my air-conditioned house.

The National Safety Council has found that only 21 states and Guam have passed laws against leaving children in vehicles unattended. But nine laws lack protection for a person who tries to rescue an unattended child, and only eight of them consider it a felony charge for offenders.

Here are a few tips to prevent you from becoming a statistic. Put items like cellphones (which you shouldn’t be using while you drive anyway), employee badges or handbags in the backseat so you have to open the back door of your vehicle each time you park to ensure no one is left behind. 

Keep vehicles locked at all times when there is nobody in it. Keep keys and remote openers out of the reach of children to ensure an inquisitive child cannot gain access to an unattended vehicle. Remember that cars can look like a playground to children. Never allow your children to climb around inside of the car. It’s also a good habit to keep your vehicle locked in the driveway or garage to ensure a child isn’t able to get inside to play and possibly suffer from heatstroke. Make sure your children know from an early age that cars are off-limits for playing or hiding in. 

Finally, ask that your child’s babysitter or childcare provider calls you when your kid didn’t arrive on schedule.

Whether you’re a caregiver, parent, or even a bystander and you witness an unattended child in a vehicle, ensure that they are responsive and ask for help locating their parents immediately. If the child does not respond, dial 911 and follow the dispatcher’s instructions. 

The preceding warning also applies to pets left in cars in the summer.

Norb is a parent and grandparent in Lockport NY.


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