SACRAMENTO – Heatstroke (hyperthermia) is a leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in young children. With temperatures on the rise, the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) is cautioning parents and caregivers of young children that leaving children in a hot car, even for a few minutes, can have fatal or irrevocable consequences.
The temperature inside a car can rise up to 50 degrees in an hour, so even moderate daytime temperatures can be dangerous. Children’s bodies are more quickly and severely affected by high temperatures. According to data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences, between 1998 and 2014, a total of 636 children lost their lives as a result of experiencing heatstroke in hot vehicles, including 30 children who lost their lives in 2014 alone.
“Temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in as little as 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked a couple of inches,” said OTS Director Rhonda Craft. “Children should not, under any circumstance, be left alone in a vehicle, even for a short period of time. Ensure that you are taking every precaution to keep your child safe and out of harm’s way. Heatstroke related deaths are completely preventable.”
Heatstroke death and injuries often occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play without a parent or caregiver’s knowledge. Other incidents can occur when there is a change of routine or confusion between parents or caregivers, unintentionally not noticing a sleeping child in the back seat of the vehicle.
Take the following precautions to prevent a heatstroke tragedy from occurring:
• 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.
• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
• Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn’t show up within the timeframe expected.
• Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a phone, purse or wallet in the back seat with the child, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat.
• Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area. Store keys out of a child’s reach. Keep empty cars locked.
• In addition, OTS urges community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number.
• A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled. Warning signs of a heatstroke include:
o Red, hot, and moist or dry skin
o No sweating
o Strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse
o Confusion, can’t be awakened, or acting strangely
If a child exhibits any of these signs after being in a hot vehicle, cool the child rapidly by spraying them with cool water or with a garden hose; NEVER give the child an ice bath. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
For additional tips and information, please visit the OTS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CaliforniaOTS or follow OTS on Twitter @OTS_CA. For more information on all OTS efforts, visit www.ots.ca.gov.