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Dangers of Leaving Children in Hot Vehicles

Posted Date: 7/1/2014
In the past 15 years, more than 500 children across the country have died from heat stroke as a result of being left unattended in a car. In fact, heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. More than half of these deaths were due to a distracted caregiver forgetting that a quiet or sleeping child remained in the vehicle. Other heat stroke fatalities occurred when a child was playing in an unattended vehicle and became trapped, or when a child was left unattended by an adult "for just a few minutes."

Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a car can soar 20 degrees in just ten minutes, with the car's windows acting like a greenhouse. Keeping the windows cracked open barely slows the rise in temperature. "The body has a way of keeping itself cool by letting heat escape through the skin, or perspiring," says Dr. John Marshall, Chair of Emergency Medicine. "If the body does not cool properly or does not cool enough, the individual may suffer a heat-related illness."

A study found that a child’s body temperature increases three to five times faster than that of an adult, making children much more vulnerable to heat-related illness. In addition, children's bodies have a greater surface area to body mass ratio, so they absorb more heat on a hot day (and lose heat more rapidly on a cold day). Children also have a considerably lower sweating capacity than adults so they are not as readily able to dissipate body heat by evaporative sweating and cooling. 
In addition to health concerns, leaving a child alone in a car in New York State is now against the law. In April 2013, the New York Senate passed a bill stating that no child under 8 years of age should be left alone in a car without supervision by someone 12 years-of-age or older, especially when the conditions present a significant risk to the health and safety of the child. If parents or guardians knowingly leave their children alone in a car, they can be charged with a misdemeanor.

"The best way to prevent a child from suffering from a heat stroke is to take the proper precautions," says Dr. Marshall. Remember to ACT:

A: Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not in it so kids don't get in on their own.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you're not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child or pet locked in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

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