Dangers of Kids Being Left in a Hot Car
July 24, 2019 | Personal Injury
On an 85F day, it can take as little as 10 minutes for a warm car to turn into a dangerously hot oven.
When you combine this with the fact that a child’s body temperature will cling up to 5 times as fast as an adult’s and it is easy to see why leaving your child in a hot car for just 10-15 minutes can become deadly.
And as the heat rises, children’s bodies cannot cope and cool like an adult’s can and death will happen much more quickly for a child under the age of 8 than it would for an adult.
This is why any time a child is left or forgotten in a vehicle it almost always ends tragically.
“According to the safety organization Kids and Cars, an average of 37 children die each year in hot cars.
These include instances where a child has been forgotten in a car, accidentally locks themselves in a car or trunk, or, in a small number of cases, when a child has been intentionally left in a car.
NoHeatStroke.org, a data site run by a member of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University, has been collecting data on these incidents since 1998.
Since that time, the highest number of deaths per year was in 2010, with 49 deaths. 2015 had the lowest rate of incidents, with 24. 2017 was also an unusually deadly year, with 42 recorded deaths” (CNN).
And this devastating trend is only growing worse despite all the media attention it is getting.
What Happens in a Hot Car?
Here’s what happens to a child’s body when they’re left in a hot car:
In as little as 10 minutes, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise more than 20 degrees if it’s parked in the sun.
This rise will occur at a surprising rate, even if air conditioning was on just before the car was turned off.
A cooled down car interior will only buy 3-5 minutes maximum before heat levels reach a dangerous level inside the Journal of Emergency Medical Services reports.
Children are at a very high risk for damages that are caused by exposure to extreme heat because they have much less body mass and thus heat up much faster.
They also are not able to sweat as readily as adults says the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
Additionally, young children and babies cannot get themselves out of a car seat or take off his or her clothes to help combat the heat.
At the hour-mark, temperature inside a car parked in the sun can reach 130F or higher!
Even a brief entrapment in a vehicle will lead to a high risk of heat stroke which occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches in excess of 104 degrees.
However, the sad truth is most children who are elf tor forgotten in a vehicle are left for an hour or more and fatalities generally result from these prolonged heat exposures.
Heat stroke brings on neurological dysfunction, nausea, disorientation, delirium and seizures and heart rate climbs as the body works overtime in trying to cool off.
All of this happens very quickly in children and results in death by the time the child is discovered.
Hot Car Death Statistics
While it is a devastating tragedy to hear of child who died from being left in a vehicle, it is important to understand just how prevalent an issue this is!
“A vast majority (87%) of vehicular heatstroke victims are 3 or younger. More than half (55%) are 1 or younger. As Kids and Cars’ research notes, the prevalence of backseat safety seats, especially rear-facing ones, may account for the young age of most victims, since the children are out of the driver’s view and can’t effectively communicate” (CNN).
Cars can reach internal temperatures of 120 or 130 degrees even when the outdoor temperature is only in the 80s.
During the peak of summer when outdoor temperatures are hitting 100+ degrees in some areas of the country, even a few minutes in a car without the AC running can bring on breathing difficulties and headaches.
The body’s natural cooling methods, such as sweating shut down as dehydration sets in when the body reaches 104 degrees.
Heat stroke will set in once the body can no long sweat and death will often occur at 107 degrees.
Decades ago, this was not as big an issue because many kids rode in the front seat with their parents.
However, once airbags became common and kids riding in the front seat were being killed by them.
So it was advised children be placed in the back seat and infants are placed in the back seat in a rear-facing carrier.
Kids are no longer drying from air bags but they are not being killed by the dangers of sitting in the back seat, falling asleep, and being forgotten.
So although kids are safer in cars in one way, they are more at risk in another.
Hyperthermia, which is the opposite of hypothermia risks in the winter, are a huge cause for concern in the hot summer months.
According to the safety organization Kids and Cars, 52 children died in 2018 of hyperthermia as a result of being left in a hot car, this is nearly a 21 percent increase over 2017 death totals.
Children can develop hyperthermia when their bodies overheat, and in cases where the child has been left in a hot car for 15+ minutes and are discovered before they have died, they are often in a comatose state and their organs have been damaged to such an extent that they later die.
Why and How it Happens
Leaving a child in a vehicle seems unthinkable, yet it happens, and it not just monsters who do not care about their child who have this happen to them.
In fact, most of the population today would be at risk for forgetting a child in the car, especially when it is their first child or they are doing something different than they normally do.
For example, a father is taking his 1 year old to daycare on the way to work rather than his wife because she is sick.
He has only done this once before.
He starts on his way, heading towards the daycare which is on the way to his office.
However, his child is asleep in the car seat in the back seat.
He forgets she is there because he is not accustomed to having her in the car in the mornings when he is heading to work.
He proceeds to drive to work, child still asleep in the car, and parks the car and head into the office, never realizing what has tragically happened until it is too late.
Once you’ve driven a set path and have create a habit of getting from Point A to Point B enough times, you can do it without thinking.
This because the automatic part of the brain that controls memorized motions and actions has taken over and guides you in a sort of autopilot.
The basal ganglia part of the brain that is responsible for deeply rooted memorized actions and habits will actually suppress the prefrontal cortex part of the brain that controls new memories and new data.
So, when a parent changes their routine to take a child to day care, or a new mom is taking a trip to the store with their infant for the first time, it can actually be hard for their brains to break those autopilot habits and remember to change things to accommodate the child.
A whole range of people can get distracted and leave their child in the car. It can happen to anybody.
For parents whose children die because they were left in a hot vehicle, there is crushing grief and guilt.
Sometimes, there are also serious legal repercussions that the parent can face on child abuse and endangerment charges as well as involuntary manslaughter charges among others.
In 49 percent of all hot-car deaths, charges were filed against the adults who left the child in the car and most of those end with a conviction and a sentence.
It is important to understand that this unfortunately happens and these parents do not need to be called monsters because they are doing that enough to themselves already.
“Kentucky State Police spokesman Sgt. Josh Lawson says vehicular heat stroke is often misunderstood by the general public.
A majority of parents are misinformed and would like to believe that they could never ‘forget’ their child in a vehicle.
The most dangerous mistake a parent can make is to think leaving a child alone in their car could never happen to them,” said Lawson.
“In these fast-paced times, it is easy for parents to get distracted and forget their child is in the car with them” (Sentinel Echo).
Be Slow to Judge Harshly
Many parents who have lost their child to this unfortunate tragedy are mercilessly attacked by the media and by people reading their stories.
Parents care called monsters and murdered, they receive death threats and angry social media posts, mails, and phone calls.
Their lives are crushed by the loss of their child and then for at times years to follow by people who judge them harshly.
Beneath this harsh judgment is a desire for self-protection from those who are making these comments and judgements.
The idea of forgetting a child in a car is such a horrifying prospect for parents that the only way they can deal with it is to distance themselves as much as they can from the parent who did this so that they feel safe and ‘not like them’.
That parent becomes a neglectful parent with whom you have nothing in common.
By judging them harshly and ridiculing them you are making yourself feel better about your own parenting and are in a way reassuring yourself that it can never happen to you.
However, telling yourself you would never forget your child in the car can be a way to lull yourself into a false sense of security.
So always be vigilant and always check the car and always look out for each other!
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