In 2016, there were 39 heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles, a 63% increase from 2015. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Summer is a favorite time of the year for many with warm, sunny days. But it’s important to remember extremely hot summer temperatures can be dangerous and even deadly.
During periods of elevated temperature, your body must work more intensely to maintain its internal temperature of 98.6 degrees, leading to the threat of dehydration, among other things. Beyond the risks to people, extreme heat increases a number of exposures. For example, vehicles can break down if there aren’t enough fluids to keep the car cool and functional as it reacts to the increased heat.
Of the numerous risks that can occur with increased heat, a heatstroke is often overlooked. Children, especially those under a year old, are at risk because their body’s temperature rises 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, and they’re often too young to alert others for help.
In the span of 10 minutes, a car can heat up by 20 degrees — enough to kill a child left alone in a vehicle. On July 31, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will tweet every 15 minutes for 24 hours to raise awareness about the dangers of heatstroke. You can follow the conversation through NHTSA’s Twitter page and participate using the hashtag #HeatstrokeKills .
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The risks of vehicular heatstroke
Vehicular heatstroke happens when a child is left or trapped inside a car or truck. As NHTSA explains, the temperature inside a vehicle can quickly rise high enough to kill a child—even when it doesn’t feel that hot outside. Understanding how and why these tragedies happen is the key to protecting our children. In 54% of cases, the child was forgotten by the caregiver. In 28% of cases, children got into the vehicle on their own.
High body temperatures can cause permanent injury or even death. It begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees and the thermoregulatory system is overwhelmed. A core temperature of about 107 degrees is lethal.
Regardless of the temperature, heatstrokes pose a risk at any given time; they can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees. Heatstroke fatalities have occurred even in vehicles parked in shaded areas and when the air temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less — rolling down a window does little keep a vehicle cool.
Related: It’s hot out there: 4 tips to prevent heat stroke
The warning signs of a heatstroke can vary, but may include: red, hot, and moist or dry skin; no sweating; a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse; a throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; being grouchy or acting strangely.
Follow these five tips from NHTSA to keep children safe from vehicular heatstroke:
Look before you lock
Get into the routine of always checking the back seats of your vehicle before you lock it and walk away. It sounds unthinkable that you’d forget your child in the back seat, but if the child is asleep and you’re distracted or in a rush to get somewhere, it does happen.
Related: Correctly used child safety seats reduce fatalities by as much as 71%
(Photo: AP/Gero Breloer)
Have a gentle reminder
Keep a stuffed animal or another memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat. Or place your phone, briefcase or purse in the back seat when traveling with your child.
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Do a routine check
If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely. Set a reminder on your phone to call and check in.
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Keep track of your car keys
Keep your vehicle locked and keep your keys out of reach; nearly 3 in 10 heatstroke deaths happen when an unattended child gains access to a vehicle.
If you have a newer model car that has a keyless entry, check with the vehicle’s manufacturer on ways to keep children from getting into the car unsupervised.
Related: 5 things you need to know about keyless ignition systems