Health officials warn of children left in hot cars

As temperatures climb, so does the risk for heat-related illness due to hyperthermia (overheating). The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reminds parents that children’s bodies overheat easily, and infants and children under age four are among those at greatest risk for heat-related illnesses.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle–related death for children. On average in the United States, a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle every 10 days. Parents and caregivers of young children should especially keep in mind that vehicles heat up quickly and can be extremely dangerous for children.

OSDH offers the following safety tips to keep Oklahoma children safe in cars during extreme heat:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle for any length of time, even if the windows are open. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to more than 140 degrees when the outside temperature is 101 degrees and a child’s body temperature can increase three to five times faster than an adult’s body temperature.
  • Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked.
  • Check the back seat. Check to ensure all children are taken out of the vehicle when reaching the destination. More than 50 percent of cases of children dying in hot cars occurred when a distracted caregiver forgot that a child was in the back seat.
  • When transporting a child and it is not normally in the routine, set up a reminder– a phone call from a friend or spouse, a note on the vehicle dashboard, or place something needed for the day (such as a purse, briefcase, or cell phone) in the back seat so you will check the back seat and see the child before leaving the vehicle.
  • If transporting children and cargo, such as groceries, take children from the vehicle first.
  • Make sure the child care provider has a system in place to prevent leaving children alone in their van or bus.
  • Keep vehicle doors and trunks closed and locked. Up to one-third of heat-related deaths among children occurred when a child was playing in an unlocked vehicle and became trapped inside.
  • Keep vehicle keys out of reach and out of sight. Teach children not to play in or around vehicles.
  • Teach children that vehicle trunks are not safe places to hide. Show children how to use the emergency trunk release if they become trapped inside.
  • If anyone sees a child alone in a locked, parked car, it is now permitted by law, to forcibly enter the vehicle to rescue the child. Call 911 immediately for emergency assistance. There will be immunity from civil liability for any damage resulting from forcible entry used to rescue the child.
  • Verify that the vehicle is indeed locked before resorting to forced entry, and use the minimum amount of force necessary to enter the vehicle.
  • Leave a note on the windshield notifying the driver that the child has been removed from the vehicle, why the child was removed and that the authorities have been contacted, and include your name and contact information.

To receive more information on summer car safety, contact the OSDH Injury Prevention Service at (405) 271-3430 or visit http://ips.health.ok.gov and click on Factsheets and then click on Kids in Hot Cars.