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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

As temperatures soar, protect young children from heatstroke in the car

Posted July 16, 2020 9:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2020 6:14 a.m. EDT

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

As the temperature soars into the 90s, safety experts are reminding parents not to leave their kids in their cars — even to just run that quick errand.

Since 1998, at least 849 children have died from heatstroke in cars, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. The nonprofit says that about 37 children die each year in hot cars, but the last two years set records — 53 in 2018 and 52 in 2019. And in more than half of these cases, the caregiver simply got distracted and forgot their child was in the car, Safe Kids says.

Don't think that could ever happen to you? Just read this Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post story about a series of parents whose children died when they forgot them in the car.

“Memory is a machine,” said one researcher who was quoted in the Washington Post story, “and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”

And this summer, during the ongoing pandemic, parents may be even more distracted as they juggle child care and work responsibilities. At the same time, to prevent their children from being exposed to the coronavirus, some may be inclined to leave their child in the car as they run errands, unaware of how quickly a car can heat up to dangerous levels.

"I have absolutely worried about that because parents may think that it is safer to keep them in the car to reduce COVID exposure in places like grocery stores," said Lindsay Bailey, injury prevention coordinator for the trauma program at UNC Health. "But the danger of leaving your child in the car can be fatal and is never a good option."

For pets too, she adds.

Here are a few things to consider about the dangers of cars on hot — and even warm — days, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

  1. It doesn't have to be an incredibly hot day for kids to suffer from heatstroke in a car. On an 80-degree day, it can take just 20 minutes for the inside of a car to heat up to 109 degrees.
  2. Heatstroke happens when a person's temperature goes above 104 degrees. A child's temperature increases three to five times faster than an adult's.
  3. A child's internal organs start to shut down when their body temperature hits 107 degrees.
  4. It can take just 10 minutes for a car to heat up 19 degrees. Cracking a window won't help.

Check out this video from Safe Kids about the temperature inside a car in Washington, DC, on an 83-degree day.

What's the easiest way to avoid these tragedies? Don't intentionally leave your child in the car even on a warm day. And take steps to ensure you won't forget they're in the backseat too.

"In order to never leave your child alone in the car, you should put something you're guaranteed to remember such as your phone, wallet or purse in the backseat," Bailey said in this video on heatstroke prevention.