With summer heat in full force here in North Texas, we are all reminded of the danger of leaving a child alone in a hot car. Even the very best, most loving families can make a mistake that could cost a child his or her life!
The majority of child deaths from being left in a hot car are completely accidental. One parent or caregiver thinks another parent or caregiver has taken the child out of the car. Or the parent or caregiver in charge actually forgets the child is in the car at all. You may think you would never forget you are transporting a child, but if it isn’t part of your normal routine, forgetting may be far easier than you think.
“The memory is faced with a challenge when it needs to remember something that you don’t do every day, such as take your child to school,” Mark McDaniel, PhD, a psychology professor at the university of Washington at St. Louis says. “For instance, maybe Mom usually does that, but for some reason, Dad takes the task for the day. If the child has fallen asleep in their car seat, which is usually behind the driver’s seat, there is no visual information to remind you that there is a kid to drop off and if you have not done it day in and day out, you need a cue. These are not bad parents, but people who don’t have a good understanding of their memory system.”
But just how dangerous is it if you accidentally leave your child in the car for a short time in the summer heat?
First, a car is like a green house. The sun’s rays enter through the car’s windows and heat is absorbed by the seats, dashboard, carpeting and floor mats. But when that heat is then released by those objects, it doesn’t all get out through the windows. That means less energy is going out of the car than is getting in. This makes your car hotter inside than the air is outside. And this can happen in a fairly short amount of time. According to Christopher Haines, DO, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, “On a day that is just 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature [inside a car] can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70% of this increase occurs the first 30 minutes.”
Second, Nathan Allen, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at the University of Chicago states, “Kids are more susceptible and at higher risk for heat-related illness and injury than adults because their bodies make more heat relative to their size and their abilities to cool through sweating are not as developed as adults.”
Heat stroke can occur when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This can result in dizziness and fainting, extreme fatigue, nausea and/or vomiting, severe headache, disorientation and confusion, rapid heartbeat, agitation, seizure, loss of consciousness, and, eventually death.
What can you do to ensure your child isn’t accidentally left in or locked in the car?
- Give yourself reminders by self-talk and visual cues. Place the diaper bag or your child’s backpack next to you so you will see it before you exit the car. You might also keep a toy in your child’s car seat that you move to the front of the car when you place your child in his or her seat.
- Make a habit of checking the backseat before you lock the car every time you exit it—even when you know you’re the only one in the car. This will instill the habit for times when you’re driving your little one.
- When you get home, always take your child out of the car first and then bring in groceries or other items.
- Never let your child play in the car, always make sure your car’s doors and trunk are locked when you’re not using it, and keep keys in a place where kids can’t get them. A child playing in the car—even in the garage—is in as much danger as one you accidentally leave behind.
Leaving your child in the car with it running and the air conditioner on isn’t any safer. He or she could be abducted, accidentally put the car into drive, or even get caught closing a window. So, don’t leave your child alone in a car under any circumstances—even for a few minutes. And if you do see a child alone in a vehicle call 911 as quickly as possible. The national Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises that you do everything in your power to get them out ASAP. The child’s life may depend on it!
Here at Accident and Injury Chiropractic, we want you and your family to be safe in your car. And remember, if you are in an accident, get checked out by our professionals immediately at an Accident and Injury Chiropractic office near you.