Child Heatstroke Dangers and Your Car

Parents and caregivers understand the importance of restraining children in their car booster seats, an effective way to protect youngsters during an accident. However, even with children safely in place, one significant and overlooked hazard may be lying in wait: heatstroke. Heatstroke can lead to death, a severe medical condition that kills more than three dozen children annually when they are left unattended in a passenger vehicle.

Signs of Heatstroke

While adults may understand the signs of heatstroke, small children do not. Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher according to the Mayo Clinic.

As a body overheats, heat cramps set in. Heat cramps are muscle spasms caused by a loss of salt and water, an affliction that commonly affects people that exercise in very warm conditions. Heat cramps can quickly give way to heat exhaustion, what the Mayo Clinic notes is evident when “heavy sweating, nausea, lightheadedness and feeling faint” is present.

As the body’s temperature begins to rise, heatstroke may set in. Heatstroke can damage vital organs such as the kidneys, heart, brain, and muscles. Without quick medical intervention, death may occur.



Hot Car Conditions

Whether children are accidentally left in a car or somehow get in unlocked cars or trunks without their parents’ knowledge, such vehicles can become very hot, particularly during the summer months. Even when outside temperatures are relatively cool, such as in the 60s, the inside temperature of your car can rise above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, cabin temperatures can rise by about 20 degrees within just 10 minutes according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Deadly cabin temperatures can be reached within just 10 minutes if the outside temperature is in the low 80s. And, leaving a window open an inch or two with the car running and the air-conditioning on may do little to keep a car cool. Children’s bodies do not regulate heat in the same way as adults. Indeed, the NHTSA notes that a child’s body temperature may increase from three to five times faster than an adult’s when sitting inside a vehicle.

Taking Preventive Measures

There are two ways that parents and caregivers can prevent heatstroke.

First, all unattended vehicles should be locked, the trunk included. Children should be instructed to never play in or near vehicles.

Second, the KidsandCars.org advocacy group advises people to “look before you lock,” offering a safety checklist to encourage parents to be extra vigilant when children are in the car.

That checklist advises parents to leave something in the backseat of the car that they’ll need when they stop, such as a purse or a briefcase. That way, when reaching for the item, they will remember that their child is still in the car.

Janette Fennell, the founder of KidsandCars.org, notes that fatigued or distracted parents and caregivers may leave a child in the car while going to work, forgetting to drop her off at daycare. Parents can also arrange with a caregiver to automatically call them if the child does not arrive at their drop off location on time. Leaving the child’s stuffed animal or another favorite toy in the front seat while you are driving is another way to remember that your little one is with you.

Safety Measures Work

When you are tired or busy you tend to forget things, perhaps even your child safely strapped in his car seat. Heatstroke is a potentially deadly condition that can be avoided, provided you take the recommended safety measures.


See AlsoHow to Keep Children Safe in a Crash

Photo attribution: Stiller Beobachter from Ansbach, Germany [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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