As temperatures climb, so does the risk for heat-related illness due to hyperthermia (overheating). The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reminds parents that children’s bodies overheat easily, and infants and children under age 4 are among those at greatest risk for heat-related illnesses.
Heat stroke is one of the leading causes of non-crash, vehicle–related death for children. In the United States, a child dies from heat stroke in a vehicle every nine days. Parents and caregivers of young children should especially keep in mind that vehicles heat up quickly and can be extremely dangerous for children.
OSDH offers the following safety tips to keep Oklahoma children safe in cars during extreme heat:
Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute, even if the windows are open.
The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to more than 140 degrees when the outside temperature is 101 degrees. A child’s body temperature can increase three to five times faster than an adult’s body temperature.
Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked.
It’s not about being a good parent. Anyone can forget a child in the back seat. New parents can be especially vulnerable to sleep deprivation as they adjust to life with an infant; lack of sleep can impact memory and judgment. Changes in routine can also contribute to unintentionally leaving a child in a car. More than 50% of cases of children dying in hot cars occurred when a distracted caregiver forgot a child was in the back seat. To prevent this, use these safety strategies:
Look before you lock. Always check the back seat before walking away from the vehicle.
One shoe off. When buckling a child into their safety seat, put an item that can’t be left in the car, like one of your shoes, in the back seat. Stepping out of the vehicle with a bare foot onto hot pavement is a good reminder to go to the back seat to retrieve the shoe – and the child. Other personal items such as a purse, wallet, or cell phone are also good reminder items.
Check with your child care provider. Make sure your child care provider has a system in place to prevent leaving children alone in their van or bus.
Kids before cargo. Take children out of the vehicle before unloading other items such as groceries.
Set up supports. Use a cell phone’s alert system to set a reminder to take the child out of the vehicle. Enlist the help of a partner or friend to give you a reminder call to make sure the child isn’t left in the car. Ask the child care provider to call you if your child isn’t dropped off at the usual time.
Keep vehicle doors and trunks closed and locked. Up to one-third of heat-related deaths among children occurred when a child was playing in an unlocked vehicle and became trapped inside.
Keep vehicle keys out of reach and out of sight. Teach children not to play in or around vehicles.
Teach children that vehicle trunks are not safe places to hide. Show children how to use the emergency trunk release if they become trapped inside.
If a child is seen alone in a locked, parked car, it is permitted by law to forcibly enter the vehicle to rescue the child. Call 911 immediately for emergency assistance. Once the child is out of the vehicle, stay with the child in a safe place near the vehicle until emergency responders arrive.
To receive more information on summer car safety, contact the OSDH Injury Prevention Service at (405) 271-3430.
Additional information on summer car safety can be found on these websites:
Safe Kids Worldwide
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention