Hot Weather Puts Kids at Risk in Cars July 8, 2009

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As Central Texas temperatures soar above 100 degrees daily, the risk for children left even for a few minutes rises. A few minutes might not seem like a long time, but there are circumstances when it can mean the difference between life and death.

Children are at serious risk for heat stroke when left alone even for a few minutes in a closed vehicle. Last year, at least 42 children across the United States died from heat stroke caused by being left or trapped in a vehicle.

"Drivers should understand that a vehicle is not a babysitter and it can quickly become an oven," said Tareka Wheeler, coordinator of Safe Kids Austin led by Dell Children's Medical Center. "A child younger than 10 should never be left alone in or around a vehicle - even for a minute. When it comes to the safety of a child, there's just too much to lose."

Heat Worse For Children

Heat is much more dangerous to children than it is to adults. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child's core body temperature may increase three to five times faster than that of an adult, which can cause permanent injury or even death. Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A core body temperature of 107 is considered lethal.

"The inside of a vehicle can rise 19 degrees above the outside temperature in just 10 minutes," Tareka said. "After an hour, the temperature inside and outside of a vehicle can differ by 45 degrees or more -even if the window is left open a crack."

Safe Kids USA and General Motors created the Never Leave Your Child Alone program to educate families on the dangers kids face in hot vehicles. According to research conducted by San Francisco State University, even with relatively cool temperatures outside - 70 degrees -the inside of a car can reach a dangerous temperature in just minutes.

The research also revealed that more than half of these children were accidentally left behind in a closed, parked car by parents or caregivers, while nearly a third of these children were trapped while playing in a vehicle unattended. Sadly, one in five of the children who died was intentionally left in the vehicle by an adult.

Safe Kids Tips For Parents and Caregivers

To improve car safety for your child:

  • Teach children not to play in, on or around vehicles.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open.
  • Always lock a vehicle's doors and trunk- especially at home. Keep keys and remote-entry devices out of a child's reach.
  • Place something that you'll need at your next stop - such as a purse, a lunch, gym bag or briefcase - on the floor of the backseat where the child is sitting. This simple act could help prevent you from accidentally forgetting a child.
  • Never Leave Your Child Alone is a component of Safe Kids Buckle Up, the multidimensional program created by Safe Kids USA and General Motors to teach families how to keep children safer in and around vehicles. Nationwide, more than 19 million people have been exposed to the program through educational activities, car seat checkup events and community outreach programs. In June 2008, the program celebrated the milestone of one million child safety seats checked for proper installation.
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