Anyone who lives in Georgia knows our summer heat can sometimes seem unbearable. But when Georgians want to help the kids beat the heat this summer by heading to the lake or just to the toy store for new water guns, there’s a special warning I want them to keep in mind: kids and hot cars are a deadly combination.
The math involved when you leave a child unattended in a hot car is no lesson for our youngsters to learn the hard way. Any child left in a vehicle under extreme heat conditions is left in a potentially deadly situation. Depending on humidity levels, a life-threatening condition called heat stroke can occur during temperatures as low as 80 degrees. Body temperatures higher than 105 degrees can cause permanent brain damage and even death, especially among children. With those figures in mind, most parents are shocked to learn that temperatures in your vehicle can spike to 160 degrees in a matter of minutes during Georgia’s hottest summer days.
The tragic fact is that from 1998 to 2007, approximately 365 children, most of them ages 3 and younger, died from heat stroke after being trapped inside cars. On days when the temperature exceeds 86 degrees, the internal temperature of your vehicle quickly climbs between 134 and 154 degrees.
So why is being left in a car on a hot day more dangerous for children than adults? Because heat is physiologically much more detrimental to our children than it is to us. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child’s core body temperature may increase three to five times faster than that of an adult.
According to research conducted by San Francisco State University, even with temperatures as seemingly cool as 70 degrees, the inside of a car can reach a dangerous temperature in just minutes. The same research found that more than a third of the children who died under such conditions were accidentally left behind in a closed, parked car by a parent or caregiver while another third were trapped while playing in an unattended vehicle. The most tragic statistic of them all: One-in-five child heat fatalities were intentionally left in vehicles by adults.
If there is a silver lining to this trend, it’s that the number of these child ‘hyperthermia’ deaths in cars does appear to be on the decline. SFSU statistics show that across the country, 42 children died in hot cars in 2008, while eight have died in similar situations so far this year.
To help prevent such senseless tragedies, our partners at Safe Kids Georgia offer several safety tips when it comes to children, cars and Georgia’s legendary summer heat:
Teach children not to play in, on, or around vehicles.
Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the windows slightly open for ventilation.
Always lock car doors and trunks, especially at home; keep keys out of children’s reach.
Check to make sure all children enter and leave the vehicle when heading to and from a destination.
Be especially careful if dropping-off infants or children at daycare is not part of your normal routine.
Place something you’ll need at your next stop (i.e. purse, lunch, gym bag, or briefcase) on the floor of the backseat where the child is sitting. This simple act could help prevent you from accidentally forgetting a child.
If you see an unattended child in a vehicle, call 911 immediately.
Parents need to know these potentially life saving tips to avoid a fatal outcome that can happen in the blink of an eye. Though these preventable deaths are down across the country, the heartbreak still happens all too often.
For more information about keeping your child safe this summer, please visit www.safekidsgeorgia.org.
Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety