Kids in the Car? Look Before You Lock
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at least 33 deaths from vehicular heatstroke—a desperately high body temperature in kids inadvertently left in hot cars—were reported last year for kids under the age of 14. Since 1998, at least 532 children have died from vehicular heatstroke and most of the deaths have occurred in kids 3 years and younger. “As we approach what is the hottest month of the year for most of the country, we’re working to get the message out to families with young children to take basic precautions to ensure a heatstroke tragedy never happens to them,” says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Recently, officials from NHTSA and Safe Kids Worldwide, who are partnering to reduce vehicular heatstroke deaths, joined the Tennessee Department of Transportation officials and other health professionals for a demonstration on just how quickly the inside of a vehicle can heat up. When outside temperatures are in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. According to NHTSA, children’s bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under 4 years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
In addition to the deaths, each year vehicular heatstrokes causes permanent brain injury, blindness and hearing loss, among other injuries, to an unknown number of children, according to NHTSA. Often heatstroke deaths and injuries occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play, without their parents’ knowing. Vehicular heatstroke also happens when a parent or caregiver not used to transporting a child as part of their daily routine accidentally forgets a sleeping baby in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the vehicle.
Demonstration programs have been planned for Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Arizona. Safety precautions include:
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle—even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
- Always check your car front and back, before locking the door and walking away;
- Ask childcare providers to call if the child does not show up for care as expected;
- Create reminders that you have a child in the car—such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to make sure you’ll check the rear of the car, or writing a note or putting a stuffed animal in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and,
- Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.
Learn more at Safekids.org/heatstroke.
NHTSA and Safe Kids want community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number.
>>Bonus Link: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) today released a study that found that devices marketed to alert parents that a child has been left behind in a hot car are unreliable. NHTSA commissioned CHOP to evaluate a number of commercially available products that connect to child restraints, but CHOP researchers say the technology has limitations including:
- variations in warning signal distance;
- potential interference with the devices’ notification signals from other electronic devices;
- devices that were disarmed because of a slumping or otherwise out-of-position child.
In addition, many of the products required extensive efforts by parents and caregivers to set up, monitor and operate, which could give parents and caregivers using the devices a false sense of security. The technologies also don’t address the up to 40 percent of children killed by vehicular heatstroke because they climbed into a car without an adult present or not in child restraints.
“While many of these products are well intended, we cannot recommend parents and caregivers rely on technology to prevent these events from occurring,” said NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland.