Kids in Hot Cars: What Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke Is & How to Prevent It
July is the deadliest month when it comes to children dying in hot cars, and 37 children die this way on average every year, reports CNN. Eighteen children have already tragically lost their lives this way in 2018, including one in Spartanburg just last month.
As the temperature starts to rise here in South Carolina this summer, this is the ideal time for parents to learn what pediatric vehicular heatstroke is – and how to prevent it.
What Is Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke?
Pediatric vehicular heatstroke occurs when a child overheats inside a vehicle. We tend to hear about it when a tragic death makes headlines, but a child can suffer other consequences from heatstroke short of death, including temporary or permanent damage to the brain and other organs.
Signs your baby or child has heatstroke include:
- Skin that’s hot, red, and dry
- A temperature of 103 or higher without sweating
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Restlessness or lethargy
A child who’s old enough to speak may report headache, dizziness, and confusion as well.
Call 911 if you suspect heatstroke and while waiting, bring the body temperature down by moving to a cool location, using cold compresses (not ice) on the neck, groin, and armpits or giving a cool bath, and keeping the child hydrated.
How Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke Happens
According to nonprofit safety organization Kids and Cars (PDF), in over half (54.25%) of cases of death from vehicular heatstroke, children were left in the car by the caregiver unintentionally, while only 11.58% were left intentionally, and in a third of cases (33.58%) the children got into the car on their own.
It may be hard to imagine how a parent or caregiver could forget a child in the car, but in many cases of unintentional abandonment, the caregiver reports a change in the regular routine. If the child is young enough, they may fall asleep in their car seat in the back, giving no aural cues of their presence, and if they’re in a car seat that’s rear-facing (as recommended for children under 1 by the NHTSA), there’s no visual cue either.
How to Prevent Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke
Never intentionally leave your child in the car, even if you think it’s not hot outside, or even if you crack the windows. Children are more susceptible to heatstroke, as their body temperature rises much faster than adults, and the temperature in a vehicle can rise extraordinarily quickly, especially in the sun.
The internal temperature of a car in 80º weather can rise to 99º inside after just 10 minutes, and to 114º in 30 minutes. When it’s 90º out (the average high in South Carolina in July) those numbers go up to 109º after 10 minutes and 124º after 30 minutes. (See a chart with more temperatures here.)
Keep your car locked and keys away from children to prevent them from getting in without you knowing; remember that 1/3 of deaths from vehicular heatstroke occur when the child gets in the car by themselves.
Create reminders and systems for yourself. Some examples: Keep a stuffed animal in the front seat when the child is in the backseat as a visual reminder. Leave your wallet, purse, or cell phone – something you will need when you get out of the car – in the backseat next to the child. Have your daycare provider or other caregiver call if your child hasn’t arrived by the time expected.
Use technology. A number of relatively inexpensive systems, sensors, alarms, and apps that can be used with your current vehicle have sprung up in recent years to give parents peace of mind. If you’re in the market for a new car, look at models by GM, Nissan, and (starting in 2019) Hyundai, which incorporate systems to remind the driver to check the back seat upon exiting the car.
Intervene if you see a child alone in a car. South Carolina is one of 19 states with Good Samaritan laws, meaning you have some legal protection if, for example, you break a car window in order to help a child or pet locked inside.
Speak to the Attorneys at The Carolina Law Group for Free
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The Carolina Law Group has four offices in upstate South Carolina for your convenience: Greenville (principal office; call 864.312.4444), West Greenville (864.312.4444), Greer (principal office; call 864.757.5555), and Spartanburg (864.312.444). Call today.