With Oklahoma’s hottest days anticipated over the next several months, keeping children safe is a priority for every parent and caregiver. An average of 38 infants and children under the age of 15 die after becoming unintentionally trapped in cars each summer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Oklahoma currently ranks in the top five states for hot car deaths, with four child fatalities that occurred in the summer of 2020. In total, 883 children have died in hot cars since related data collection began in 1998. More than 70% of deaths occurred in babies and toddlers under age 2.
Heatstroke and complications related to exposure to extreme heat, such as dehydration, are the underlying cause of car deaths. Children’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than that of adults, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics, which makes them more susceptible to suffering heatstroke, especially in the enclosed space of a vehicle. Children are often affected while restrained in car seats they cannot unbuckle without help.
When a child’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees F., she or he is considered to experience heat stroke, while temperatures exceeding 107 degrees F. are fatal. Even on relatively mild weather days, the temperature inside cars quickly increases. Over just a 25-minute period, for example, a car at 73 degrees F. without ventilation can reach 100 degrees F. inside. At least two deaths since 2005 took place while the day’s recorded temperature was in the low 70s. Children should never be left unattended in a vehicle. There is not a defined period of time considered safe for a child to sit in a closed car because the majority of temperature increases take place within the first 15 to 30 minutes after a car is turned off, as determined by federal reports at Weather.gov. Even leaving the air conditioner on with the car running or the windows open can put your child at risk.
The advocacy website NoHeatstroke.org lists circumstantial causes of car deaths as attributable to the following situations:
- 52.9% - Forgotten by caregiver
- 25.6% - Gained access on their own
- 19.7% - Knowingly left by caregiver
- 1.7 % - Unknown
Every hot car death is preventable. Here are four ways to help keep children safe every summer.
Leave your phone or another object on the floor under your child’s seat: Having to reach back to go around the car to retrieve an object makes parents and caregivers more likely to check the back seat. Because rear-facing infants often fall asleep or are quiet in the car, it can be easier to forget they are there.
Set an alarm on your phone: A change in routine is also a leading contributor to the circumstances around hot car deaths, such as proceeding to work instead of dropping off a child at daycare. Fatigue and distraction can also be contributing factors. The NSTA reports Thursdays and Fridays are the days on which car deaths are most likely to occur. Consider a series of alarms on your phone about the approximate time you should be reaching your daycare, work or other destination. Breaking through your own thoughts can help you remember why you set the alarm with that audible cue.
Teach children to stay out of parked cars: Leave keys out of reach and remind children never to hide inside a car, even if it’s parked in the family garage.
Check cars if a child is missing: Always check pools first and cars second if a child is missing at home.
Call 9-1-1 if you find a child in a hot car. Even if the child is responsive, call emergency personnel immediately. Signs of distress may be less apparent at first. It is important to look for symptoms of heatstroke like flushed skin, excessive sweating, slurred speech, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Find more information about preventing hot car deaths at http://bit.ly/prevent_summer21.