Today is National Heatstroke Prevention Day: Important Reminders About Keeping Kids Out of Hot Cars

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It’s the height of summer, which means it’s also time for a super important safety reminder. Never, ever, leave your child alone in your vehicle, not even for a minute. Even with a window cracked open and your car parked in the shade in 60-70 degree weather, the temperature inside your car can reach 110 degrees! A national survey done by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) shows that a full 45% of parents think it is “very unlikely” a child in their neighborhood could “die from the heat” after being left in a car, yet this happens, on average, around 38 times a year. In 2011 more than 20 children died from heat exposure (medically termed “hyperthermia”) after being left in the car, while data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences shows that a full 32 children died in 2012 from heatstroke. Some parents assume that as long as they hurry, their child will be fine in a hot car, but as Lorrie Walker, Child Passenger Safety Training Manager of Safe Kids Worldwide, says, cars heat up alarmingly fast, noting, “The inside of a car acts like a greenhouse. Because children’s bodies heat up by as much as five times faster than adults, this makes them much more susceptible to heatstroke.” Safe Kids notes that it can take as little as 10 minutes for a car to reach deadly temperatures for a child locked inside. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that even cooler temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature to rise well above 110° Fahrenheit inside your car very quickly. More kids die in hot cars in June, July and August than in other months. With all this in mind, NHTSA and SafeKids are currently trying to raise awareness about kids and car safety. Keep reading to see some extremely important tips.

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Photo by Shutterstock

Though some of this may seem like common sense, it’s important to go over the basics often, because sadly, even the best parents make mistakes. This can happen to any busy parent.

Remind yourself that heatstroke is a horrid way to die:

Victims of heatstroke do not die peacefully. It’s a painful and horrible death. The result of heat exposure is as follows. First you develop heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, a weak, rapid pulse, low blood pressure, muscle cramps, nausea and headache. Then heat exhaustion can quickly turn into a life-threatening condition called heatstroke. Heatstroke causes shock, low blood pressure, blue lips and nails, clammy skin and vital organ swelling. At this point, heatstroke must be treated immediately to prevent permanent brain damage , damage to other vital organs and to prevent death. Now think about your child going through this. It’s a horrifying thought to imagine your child in this situation, but it’s a necessary reminder for many caregivers who think a child can survive if left alone in a car with a rapidly rising temperature.

Safety tips all parents need to know:

  • Make it a habit to NEVER leave your child unattended in a car.  Even if you are only gone for a minute, even if it’s December vs. August and even if you roll down the window, it’s not only dangerous to leave your child in the car, but illegal in most states.
  • When you get out of your car, even if you park in a safe garage, always lock up and place your keys far out of reach. 30% of all heat related deaths in the U.S. occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle. Kids love to play in cars, but it’s just not safe.
  • Leave yourself reminders. Good reminders include setting the items you need (your cell, your purse, etc.) on the back seat next to your child, so when you reach for those items, you see your child — or set one of your child’s items on the passenger seat so you see that as well. You can also set the alarm on your cell phone as a reminder to drop your child off at day care or the sitters. At work, set your computer up so a calender program asks you, “Did you drop off at child care today?” You may also want to establish a plan with your child care provider so if your child fails to arrive on time, the provider always gives you a call.
  • Get a safety sticker or mirror hanger that reminds you that your child is still in the car.
  • Do not block your windows with stickers and other nonsense. If you do leave your child, a low-laying baby especially, in the car, anything left in the window will block passerby from seeing your child in the car.
  • If you accidentally leave your child in the car, call 911 immediately.
  • If you see that another parent has left their child in the car, first call 911 then get the child out of the car and try to cool them down, especially if they’re showing signs of heat distress. See if the child can unlock the door or even carefully break a front door window (as far away from the child as possible) if you have to — remember every second counts. Children can die within 10 minutes of being locked in a car, even if the outside temp is in the low 80s. Rescuing a trapped child is not the time to wait and see what happens. Prevention is vital.
  • Never leave a pet unattended in a hot car. Click here to watch one veterinarian sweat it out himself in a hot car to learn how our furry friends must feel when left to wait in a parked car for their owner to return.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

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