Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s body does. Those sensitive bodies combined with cars that heat up like greenhouses are a deadly mix. Fifty-one young children perished in 2018 in hot cars, the deadliest year on record according to the National Safety Council. The good news is, there are things you can do to help prevent this – whether you are a parent or not. Knowledge can arm everyone with the ability to help eradicate these unnecessary tragedies.
“Heatstroke can happen to a child in a car when outside temps are as low as 57 degrees,” said Stafford County Fire and Rescue Chief Joseph Cardello. “It is never safe to leave a child alone in a car. As well, it is important to take extra steps to remind yourself your child is in the backseat, even if you’ve driven the same route hundreds of times.”
Cars act like mobile greenhouses with temperatures rising as much as 50 degrees higher on the inside compared to the outside. The largest rise happens in the first 30 minutes. Even if you park your car in the shade, the heat inside a car can rise to 100 degrees after an hour. Heatstroke begins with a core body temperature of 104 degrees.
How do children die in hot cars? A little over half are unknowingly left. The parent or guardian’s brain goes on autopilot, writing a program, when one does the same thing, day after day after day. Stress, fatigue or a change in caregiver routine can cause a person to operate on autopilot and completely forget their child in the car. This sad occurrence happens across all demographics. You can help prevent this by:
- Setting an audible GPS to go to your child care destination
- Talk to your child throughout the drive
- Set a cell phone alarm to ring when you reach your destination, using your child’s name as the alarm description
- Do not answer the phone and avoid distractions while driving
- Create a “look before you lock” process to form an ongoing habit
- Locking vehicles when not in use.
Some children gain access to cars on their own. They might be trying to retrieve a toy, be playing hide and seek. They could be looking for candy. It is important to teach children that cars are not play areas and if they need something from the car, to ask an adult for assistance. If you do not have children, check your backseat when you get in. Make sure a child has not gained access.
The rules that apply to children also apply to pets. What should you do if you see a child or a pet alone in a car on a warm day? First, call 911. Search the immediate area, go inside the establishment or ask someone around you to look for the car’s owner. Do not wait more than a few minutes to return. If the child or pet is in distress, remove them from the car if it is unlocked.
If the car is not unlocked, your actions might be covered under Good Samaritan laws. Virginia has a Good Samaritan law that allows for – It is smart to carry a car safety hammer – a device that breaks windows and can cut seat belts. These are useful for rescuing any person in distress, like the two good Samaritans who rescued a man who had a heart attack in his still running car on Interstate 95.
The National Safety Council has a very comprehensive online safety course you can take on keeping children safe from hot cars - https://training.nsc.org/hot-cars/ . The information is useful to everyone and we all have a part in keeping our most vulnerable residents safe.