Preventing Heatstroke in Children
June 5, 2021
Every year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues an important reminder to parents and caregivers on the various ways they can prevent heatstroke-related deaths in children. Since 1998, more than 900 children have died after being left or becoming trapped in hot vehicles. More than half of these cases resulted from adults forgetting about children in cars, so now is the time to make some changes to insure that these tragedies do not continue to happen.
Heatstroke in Kids: What Is It and How Does It Happen?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), out of all the heat-related illnesses out there, heatstroke is the most dangerous. In simple terms, heatstroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. During heatstroke, the body’s temperature rises rapidly and it loses its ability to sweat. This makes it impossible for the body to cool down on its own. There are a variety of serious and potentially lethal complications that occur when a person experiences heatstroke. When the body reaches an extremely high internal temperature, it can cause swelling in the brain and other vital organs. This can lead to long-term or permanent damage. In the direst cases, like in the absence of emergency medical intervention, heatstroke is fatal.
Even on cooler days or with open windows, cars heat up very quickly. In fact, it only takes 10 minutes for a vehicle to heat up by 20 degrees. While heatstroke is a real concern for people of all ages, children are particularly susceptible to the numerous dangers that accompany it. The NHTSA reports that a child’s body temperature rises somewhere from three to five times as fast as an adult’s. Because their body temperatures rise so quickly, a child who is left in a hot vehicle can die from heatstroke within a matter of mere minutes.
Heatstroke starts when the body’s core temperature reaches approximately 104 degrees. Children can die from heatstroke when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees. According to NoHeastroke.org, there were a record number of hot car deaths in 2018 and 2019; 53 children died each year. In 2020, 24 children died of vehicular heatstroke. While the number appears to be positively trending, even one case of fatal vehicular heatstroke each year is too much.
Ways to Help Keep Children Safe
Here are some of the NHTSA’s key steps that parents and caregivers – and everyone else, too – can take to guard children from falling victim to vehicular heatstroke:
- Never leave a child in a car unattended, no matter if the windows are open, the engine is running, or if the air conditioning is on
- Ask your childcare provider to call you right away if your child does not show up for his or her care as scheduled
- Make a habit out of checking your entire vehicle every time you get out and before you lock the doors. Be sure to check the front and back seats thoroughly
- Store car keys out of a child’s reach and teach kids that the car is an off-limits area for play
- Place personal items, like a purse or briefcase, in the back seat
- Keep car doors locked at all times. This helps limit the chances of a child entering a vehicle unsupervised
- If you see a child alone in a locked car, remove them from the vehicle immediately and call 911. It is critical to remove any child that is overheating or in distress and to rapidly cool them down
There are several technologies on the market that aim to prevent hot car deaths, too. One example is a technology called Sensorsafe, which alerts the driver by sound whether a child is still in the backseat after the engine is off. General Motor’s also has a feature in some of its vehicles called the “Rear Seat Reminder System”, which uses back door sensors to alert the driver that someone opened or closed the rear door within ten minutes of turning the vehicle on. Some GM models also give chime notifications to drivers that say: “Rear seat reminder. Look in rear seat”.
By utilizing available technologies and taking a few simple and easy precautions, we can get the number of annual hot car deaths down to zero. If you would like to learn more about preventing heatstroke-related deaths in children, please visit the NHTSA’s anti-heatstroke campaign here: https://www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/heatstroke. If you have a legal question or concern, contact someone at our firm online now.
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