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The Dangers of Kids in Hot Cars

Posted on Jun 14, 2021

Research shows that almost 53% of children who die from car-related heatstroke are left in the vehicle accidentally. As we move into the hottest part of the year in Florida parents and caregivers need to be vigilant about not leaving kids or pets in the car. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Petra Stanton, SafeKids supervisor at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, discusses the issue.

When children or pets are left in the car, their body temperature rises with the rising heat. Stanton says this is particularly dangerous for small children who do not self-regulate their body temperature. Their bodies heat up faster than the body of an adult. When the child’s body reaches a temperature of 104 degrees, major organs start experiencing distress and begin to shut down and when the temperature rises to 107 degrees the child can die.

A car can heat up very fast, meaning as much as 20 degrees in 10 minutes.

Sadly, this happens every year. Why?

Some think that the parents who forget their child in their car are negligent, but based on what is known about these instances, it is not always the case. Often, these are typical parents, who may be out of their routine or get distracted by something, such as emergent phone call and forget that the child is in the car. As unbelievable as it may sound, this is how over 50% of these accidents happen.

Further, over 25% of the children gain access to the unlocked car and get in. Then they have difficulty finding their way out of the vehicle. A small child may even start pressing buttons, which can lock the vehicle, making it even more difficult for the child to get out. If a child is missing at home, it is important for families to always check the pool first and the vehicle second. Also, always keep your vehicles locked in the garage or the driveway.

Avoid leaving children in the car even for a few minutes when getting a coffee or something similar.

Create reminders for yourself, put something you have to bring in with you in the back seat. For example, you can put your left shoe, purse or your cell phone on the floorboard in the back. This will force you to look in the back to make sure there is no one there.

What do we do if we see a kid left in the car?

Take action. If you see a child in a car, quickly scan to see if the parent is around. If you do not see the parent call 911. The quicker the professional help arrives the faster they can help the child. 

New Technologies

Because this is such a common issue, car seat and vehicle manufacturers are developing new technologies to decrease the numbers of these incidents. For example, a car seat manufacturer puts a technology into their chest clip that alerts the parent the chest clip is closed, meaning the child may still be buckled in the car seat. Some vehicles may have a reminder on their dashboard that comes on when the vehicle is turned off. Some vehicle manufactures are even developing movement sensing technology for the inside of the vehicle, to detect if a child is the left in the car.

All of this is a great news in terms of preventing these tragedies from happening. But it’s important to know that there are many products not made by these car or car seat manufactures on the market to prevent heatstroke. Please check with your car seat or vehicle manufacturer before adding anything that may not be safety tested with their product.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report.


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