Vehicular heat stroke: Don't leave children in hot cars

Every year, children and pets perish when left in hot cars, even on mild days. Read this article and learn how to keep your loved ones safe from the danger of hot cars.

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  • Several years ago, I accidentally locked my 1-year-old in the car on a hot day as we went to a pool to play. Unfortunately, I locked my phone in the car too, so it was a few minutes before I could call an auto service to unlock the car. After crying for a bit, he fell asleep. A passing policeman became very concerned because he looked red and flushed through the window. It took about 25 minutes from the time I locked him in until I was able to get the door unlocked. My son was fine, but that experience scared me, as the danger was very real.

  • Every year news agencies report tragic deaths from parents inadvertently leaving kids in hot cars. Close to 30 such deaths have already been reported in 2013. Pets can be affected as well. Make sure vehicular heat stroke never happens in your family. Read on for important information on the danger of hot vehicles and how you can prevent accidents for yourself and others.

  • This video, called One Decision, helps illustrate what can happen to a child left in a car. In this reenactment, the mother was distracted on the phone before she went into a store. Often, parents report forgetting the child was in the car, although some have intentionally left their children in the car, thinking they would be safe. San Francisco State University has a heat stroke website which addresses this issue. It notes that children can become too hot in cars on days as mild as 70 degree.

  • A car is not a play place

  • One way children get hurt in hot cars is when they are playing unattended without their caregiver’s knowledge. To avoid this, lock your doors when you leave your car, or lock the door to the garage or driveway where the car is parked. Keep your keys out of reach of little hands, and be sure to check on small children every five minutes when they are out of your sight.

  • Take your kids in, too

  • Never leave your children in a car when you run errands. If you do need to run quickly, like to drop off library books in an outdoor depository, put the windows down and keep your car in sight. It is better to be inconvenienced than to harm your child. What might happen if you run into a friend and chat for a few minutes? Your child could be forgotten and in a dangerous situation. I never leave my kids in the car without my oldest child (age 12) to supervise, and I try not to leave them at all.

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  • Make seat checks a habit

  • How do kids get forgotten in cars? Parents are busy and distracted by other thoughts, particularly when kids are quiet. Make a habit of scanning the back seats of your car every time you exit. Taking just a few seconds to mentally think about where your kids are will keep accidents from happening. If you arrive home and your child is asleep, don’t leave him sleeping in a hot car without an open door. It is better to move the child and risk waking him then to cause heat stroke or death.

  • The Humane Society offers great information and a printable flyer about pets in hot cars. The most startling fact they report is that on an 85 degree day, the temperature in a car can rise to over 100 degrees in 10 minutes, and up to 120 degrees in 30 minutes. That is too hot for humans and animals.

  • If you do see a child or pet unattended in a car on a hot day, act. If the car is unlocked, roll down the windows and call the police. If the child is in distress and already showing signs of heat stroke, particularly if she is unconscious, call for medical help immediately. People suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke may be cooled down with damp cloths and by removing clothing and moving them to a cooler location.

  • There is no need for anyone to suffer death due to vehicular heat stroke. Being aware of the danger, and making an effort to prevent it in your own family, will keep you safe. In addition, watch out for others and offer help when needed. Keep your children safe by keeping them out of hot cars.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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