It’s a tragedy that always seems to occur during the summer: A parent
leaves a child in a car and the child dies or has serious health problems
because of the high temperature inside the vehicle.
“It’s heartbreaking; the parent either forgets the child is
in the car or just leaves him there during a quick errand, figuring nothing
can happen in just a few minutes. But in hot weather, a car can reach
deadly temperatures in as little as 10 minutes,” says
Steve Kwon, MD, a pediatrician with
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Yorba Linda.
The temperature inside a car gets hot when the sun’s rays come through
the windows, which creates a greenhouse effect, Dr. Kwon adds. The National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that on a summer day when
the temperature outside is 80 to 100 degrees, it’s between 131 and
172 degrees inside a car parked in direct sunlight. Even with the windows
rolled down a couple of inches on a day in the low 80s, the temperature
inside a car can climb to 109 degrees, according to the NHTSA. “It’s
been calculated that a car’s interior temperature can climb by 19
degrees in just 10 minutes, and increase by 43 degrees after an hour,”
Dr. Kwon says.
“Those high temperatures can take a toll on the body, especially
for children, whose body temperatures can rise three to five times faster
than adults,” Dr. Kwon continues. “At 104 degrees, the body
can exhibit signs of heatstroke, such as dizziness, fatigue, flushed skin,
confusion or unconsciousness. At 107 degrees, there is the potential for
organ damage and death.”
Between 1998 and 2014, an average of 37 children died each year from heatstroke
after being left in a car, making it the leading cause of vehicular death
for children outside of car crash-related fatalities. “Parents and
caregivers can help lower that number by taking some steps to ensure their
child’s safety,” Dr. Kwon says.
- Don’t leave a child unattended in a car, period. (The same goes for
pets, by the way.)
- Keep your car locked at home. This prevents children from getting inside
and accidentally locking themselves in.
- Make it a habit to always check inside the car after getting out, to make
sure you don’t accidentally leave a baby or toddler in their car seat.
- Use visual cues to remind you when your small child is in the car. Some
people put a stuffed animal in the front seat, or put their purse or wallet
in the back seat by the child.
- For kids in child care, arrange for the provider to contact you whenever
the child doesn’t show up.
“Even if you’re not a parent, you should be vigilant,”
Dr. Kwon says. “In California, it’s against the law to leave
children ages 6 and younger alone in a car. If you see a child unattended,
call 911 and stay by the car to help.”
For more information about St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, click
here. For more information about Dr. Kwon, click
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.