For the last few years, nearly every city across North America, has been breaking all kinds of heat records and, in some cases, the heat has led to preventable deaths, with the elderly, weak, and very young at most risk.
While their compromised health is unavoidable in these weather conditions, even more tragic are the number of truly preventable heat-related deaths which occur.
Top on this list is the loss of life which happens when children are left inside cars, where the heat levels rise dangerously quickly, resulting in (most often) death due to hyperthermia. In fact, hyperthermia (the opposite of hypothermia) is the number one non-accident vehicle cause of death for children under the age of 14.
While most parents are aware of the inherent risks of leaving a child at any age in a car, alone, in any temperature, about half these deaths which occur are as a result of a caregiver forgetting that the child is in the car when they park on a hot day.
So here’s a reminder for Moms, Dads, grandparents and other caregivers about the precious cargo they have in their back seats.
- 1) The interior or a car can reach temperatures of 51 degrees Celsius after just one hour, in as low as 27 degree heat.
- 2) Leaving a car window open in stifling heat will not prevent hyperthermia from happening.
- 3) If your car does not have air conditioning, be aware of warning signals even when not in a parked position. Signs of hyperthermia include: red, hot, or moist or dry skin; no sweating; either a rapid or weak pulse; nausea or acting strangely.
- 4) Children who are unable to undo their own seat belts (i.e. younger children in a car seat) are obviously unable to release themselves as they become uncomfortably hot and sick. Even kids who can release a seat belt may be hesitant to do so, or be concerned about leaving the vehicle due to safety conditions outside the vehicle.
- 5) It is always worth taking your child with you, out of the car, into the gas station, drugstore, bank, or other quick visit stop, both from a heat as well as a safety perspective.
- 6) An alternative to taking the kids out of the car is to visit drive-thru facilities (for banking, dry cleaning, coffee runs) when you have small children in an air-conditioned car on a hot day, or consider leaving the chore until a cooler part of the day when you can park and go in.
- 7) If someone other than the parent is taking a child in their car, check in with them during the day to remind them they have an extra passenger. It can be shockingly easy to forget a quietly sleeping infant in the back of a car, when it is not part of your regular routine. (Stick a note to the dashboard if necessary.)
- 8) Don’t leave your car unlocked on the driveway, or anywhere, where kids could enter it to play in it.
- 9) If you discover a child in a car with signs of hyperthermia, get them out of the car; if you can, cool them immediately, and call 911.
- 10) Do a check around your car every time you lock it, on hot days, just to get into the habit of making sure all passengers are safely out of the vehicle.