Look before you lock

Heatstroke is a real danger for children left in hot cars

Heatstroke is the number one killer of children aside from car crashes. That’s why Safe Kids New Hampshire, a program of the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), has joined with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to attempt to reduce these deaths by reminding parents and caregivers about the dangers of heatstroke and leaving children in hot cars.

“As outside temperatures rise, the risk of children dying from being left alone inside a hot vehicle also rises,” said Julie Dietrich, CHaD’s Child Passenger Safety Program Coordinator.

According to Dietrich, once a vehicle is turned off, it takes less than 10 minutes for the temperature to rise 35 degrees. “One child dies from heatstroke nearly every 10 days from being left in a hot vehicle, but what is most tragic is that the majority of these deaths could have been prevented,” she said.

Safe Kids New Hampshire urges all parents and caregivers to do these four things:

1. Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended.

2. Make it a habit to look in the back seat every time you exit the car.

3. Always lock the car and put the keys out of reach. And, if you ever see a child left alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 right away.

4. Always keep personal items such as purses on the rear floor so checking the rear seat area becomes a habit.

If you are a bystander:

1. Always make sure the child is OK and responsive. If not, call 911 right away.

2. If the child appears OK, attempt to locate the parents; or have the facility’s security or management page the car owner over the PA system.

3. If there is someone with you, one person should search for the parent while someone waits at the car.

4. If the child is not responsive and appears in great distress, try to get into the car to assist the child, even if that means breaking a window.

Know the warning signs of heatstroke, which include:

• Red, hot, and moist or dry skin

• No sweating

• A strong rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse

• Nausea

• Confusion

• Acting strangely

If a child exhibits any of these signs after being in a hot vehicle, cool the child rapidly by spraying them with cool water or with a garden hose -- never use an ice bath. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Children’s body temperatures can rise up to five times faster than that of an adult, and heatstroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees. On an 80-degree day, a car can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.

“Fifty-nine percent of all vehicle-related heatstroke deaths in children are caused by a child accidentally being left in the car, and 29 percent are from a child getting into a hot car on their own,” said Leach. “We want to get the word out to parents and caregivers, please look before you lock.”   

Julie Dietrich is CHaD’s Child Passenger Safety Program Coordinator and the New Hampshire Child Passenger Safety Coordinator.

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