Heat & Vehicle Safety
Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director
June 18, 2012
As the summer months approach and temperatures rise, it’s important to remember how dangerous the heat can be for our bodies.
Temperatures inside a parked car can skyrocket. Children left in a car, even on a relatively mild day (70 degrees Fahrenheit), can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s and makes them more susceptible to heat stroke.
When a car is parked, closed and not running, it starts to absorb the sun’s rays and objects (dashboards, steering wheel, carseat, etc.) absorb the heat which in turn heats the air trapped inside the vehicle. This trapped air starts to work like an oven to objects and people inside of the car.
For example, if the temperature outside is 86 degrees Fahrenheit, within 10 minutes the temperature inside the car will be at 98.6 degrees and in a hour will reach a scorching 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
During this process, your body will go from heat stress, or a mild physical discomfort, to heat stroke and hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is a life-threatening condition where once temperatures reach above 104 degrees Fahrenheit it will cause the body to convulse, go into delirium, coma, and death.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends the following tips for parents and caregivers.
Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front to back – before walking away. Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as: writing yourself a note and putting the note where you will see it when you leave the vehicle; placing your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle; or keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she is leaving the vehicle.
If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop went according to plan. Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare. Set a reminder on your cell phone or calendar to alert you to be sure you dropped your child off at day care. You can also download the Baby Reminder App for iPhones.
Never leave infants or young children unattended in a vehicle — even if the windows are partly open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on, this creates potential for even more dangers.
Don’t let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them a vehicle is not a play area. Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children’s reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible.
Information provided by NHTSA.gov and mchc.net