It is that time of year for cookouts, baseball games, swimming, and many more activities that are fueled by the summer sun. This time of year is certainly preferred by many individuals as it lacks the bitter winds of winter and gloomy skies. Children especially appreciate this season as they can enjoy the warm weather and embrace the adventures that await them outside. Though summer is a fun time for many families, the season can be dangerous for children. Due to this time of year bringing rising hot temperatures, children face risks associated with vehicles.
Many of us have jumped into a car on a summer day only to find that the inside is sweltering hot. It hurts to touch the steering wheel, the metal clip of the seatbelt feels like an oven, and catching your breath feels like a hopeless task until the air conditioning finally starts blowing cool air. Vehicles can get hot extremely quickly leaving children at risk for heatstroke when they are left unattended in a vehicle or gain access to a vehicle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (2015) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2017) both report that temperatures inside a car can rise 20 degrees F within just 10 minutes. Researchers have found that if a car is parked in direct sunlight, temperatures inside the car can reach as high as 131 degrees F to 171 degrees F in only 15 minutes (Koul et al., 2010). Vehicles and heat create a dangerous situation for children, but there are steps caregivers can take to ensure children remain safe in and around vehicles.
Children are vulnerable to heatstroke for many reasons such as their small blood volume in relation to their body and their inability to sweat the same amount as adults (Adato, Dubnov-Raz, Gips, Heled, & Epstein, 2016). Though no parent wants to imagine that their child can be left in a vehicle or become trapped in a vehicle, we know this tragic occurrence does happen. The AAP (2015) reminds caregivers that anyone can mistakenly leave a child in the back seat, even a loving and attentive parent. Children are at a higher risk for being left in the back seat if the individual driving is distracted or there is a change in the typical routine. Researchers also share that sometimes children gain access to a vehicle that is unlocked and become trapped in the vehicle, which can also lead to heatstroke (Adato el al., 2016; Koul et al., 2010). The experts provide caregivers with tips they can use to make sure children are never left in a vehicle or gain access to an unlocked vehicle.
Let’s review the tips provided by the AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
• Always check the back seat to make sure no children are present before locking the car and walking away (AAP, 2015; NHTSA, n.d.)
• Avoid being distracted while driving like talking on a cell phone (AAP, 2015)
• Be extra alert when there is a change in the usual routine like having to take a different route to work (AAP, 2015)
• If someone else is driving the child to childcare or school, check to make sure the child arrived at their destination safely (AAP, 2015; NHTSA, n.d.)
• Ask childcare providers to call a parent if the child is more than 10 minutes late (AAP, 2015)
• Place your purse, cell phone, or bag in the backseat so that when you arrive to your destination you must check the back seat (AAP, 2015; NHTSA, n.d.)
• Keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when it is empty. When you place your child in the car seat, move the stuffed animal to the front seat to serve as a reminder that your child is in the vehicle (NHTSA, n.d.)
• Keep vehicles locked and always store keys out of sight and out of reach of children to prevent children from gaining access to a vehicle and getting locked inside (AAP, 2015; NHTSA, n.d.)
The summer season provides us the opportunity to discuss heatstroke in children because the warm temperatures cause vehicles to get extremely hot. Remember that this is an important conversation to have with caregivers outside of summer. Even when the temperature is as low as 57 degrees F, the inside of a vehicle can still reach 107 degrees F, which still makes children susceptible to heatstroke (AAP, 2015; NHTSA, n.d.). It’s also important to remind caregivers that when a vehicle window is cracked, a vehicle will still reach high temperatures and children can suffer a heatstroke (CDC, 2017).
Let’s help caregivers keep children safe in and around vehicles all year around!
Adato, B., Dubnov-Raz, G., Gips, H., Heled, Y., & Epstein, Y. (2016). Fatal heat stroke in children found in parked cars: autopsy findings. European Journal Of Pediatrics, 175(9), 1249-1252. doi:10.1007/s00431-016-2751-5
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2015, June 30). Prevent child deaths in hot cars. Retrieved from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Prevent-Child-Deaths-in-Hot-Cars.aspx Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 19). Heat and infants and children. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/children.html
Koul, R., Al-Futaisi, A., Al-Sadoon, M., El-Nour, I., Chacko, A., Hira, M., & … Jain, R. (2010). Vehicular Entrapment and Heat Stroke in Three children: Is it a Form of Child Neglect?. Oman Medical Journal, 25(3), 222-224. doi:10.5001/omj.2010.61
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). It can happen to anyone; know the facts to protect your kids. Retrieved from: https://www.nhtsa.gov/heatstroke-kills-children