As temperatures get warmer during the summertime, law enforcement officials consistently report an increased number of hyperthermia-related deaths in vehicles. These fatal incidents are more commonly known as "hot car deaths." After car crash injuries, hyperthermia is the leading cause of vehicle deaths in children under fourteen.
All Missouri parents should be aware of this hazard and take the proper precautions to guard your child's life. Since 1998, 531 children nationwide have died of hyperthermia after being left in hot cars. In 2011 alone, 33 children died. There have been at least 4 hot car deaths reported this summer, including a 13 month-old boy in Lee's Summit.
If you have never heard of a hot car death, consider this: The temperature in a closed car in the summer can rise 30-50 degrees in a matter of minutes. Such an environment becomes very dangerous very quickly, especially for small children, who cannot regulate the heat the way older children and adults can. If left in vehicles during hot weather, small children are at risk of a serious injury or death from hyperthermia.
When hot car deaths make the news, many people wonder what kind of person could forget a child in the backseat. Writer Gene Weingarten explored this question in a Pulitzer Prize winning article for the Washington Post, pointing out that parents from all walks of life have made this terrible mistake:
"What kind of person forgets a baby? The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist."
Here are some facts that Missouri parents should know:
• Even with the windows rolled down a couple of inches, with temps in the low 80s, the temperature inside a car can reach levels that are fatal to a child in only 10 minutes.
• Infants and children under four are at greatest risk for heat-related sickness and death.
• Left in a hot vehicle, a small child's temperature can increase three to five times as fast an adult's. Extreme body temperatures can cause permanent injury to a child, or even death.
So, perhaps you think you are only running into the store to pick up one item, and you'll be out in less than five minutes. Perhaps your baby is sleeping peacefully in the back seat, and you don't want to disturb her. Perhaps the temperature is comfortable, so you can't imagine it could get that hot in the car.
Don't take the risk. It's better to be safe than sorry: never leave your child unattended in the car for any length of time, for any reason. Also, avoid leaving your car unlocked: 30% of hyperthermia deaths occur in children who are playing in unattended vehicles, often without the vehicle owner's knowledge.
Along with hyperthermia, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified five prevalent hazards to children that are posed by vehicles:
• Backovers (backing up without realizing a child is behind the vehicle)
• Power Windows
• Vehicle Rollaway
• Seat Belt Entanglement
• Trunk Entrapment
For more information about hot car deaths and these other child safety hazards, we urge you to visit NHTSA's Keeping Kids Safe site. Along with an appropriate car seat, there are many other important things you can do to safeguard your young passengers. We remind you to drive safely, stay alert behind the wheel, and never leave a child (or pet) locked in a car in the summer heat.