Leaving Kids in a Hot Vehicle Can Prove Deadly

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

With warmer temperatures comes the risk of excessive heat exposure, and for kids vehicles can be a deadly accomplice.

Last year 49 children in the United States died from heat stroke after being left unattended in a vehicle. Just running a quick errand can lead to tragedy.

"It's dangerous not only for the safety of the child outside of the heat, but the heat itself, and the fact that it can be so quick," said Ryan King, Assistant Director of the Central District Health Department.

Officials say it's usually unintentional, but because of the way children's bodies are developing cracking a window isn't enough.

"I think oftentimes it can occur when people get out of a routine, maybe toting other people's kids around or forgetting a sleeping child in the back," King said. "But even a few minutes isn't a good idea. It doesn't take long for a car to really heat up."

Many people don't realize how quickly a vehicle's interior temperature can rise. At the Nebraska Central News studio we left our news car parked in the sun for about 20 minutes, and while the temperature outside was about 94 degrees, inside it was nearly 140.

"On a 70 degree day the temperature in your car could be well over 100 degrees, causing your child to have heat exhaustion or heat stroke," Grand Island Fire Department Captain Ed Carlin said. He said it can lead to a coma or even death.

Experts say children don't have fully developed regulating systems, and their body temperatures can warm 3-5 times faster than adults. Emergency officials say because time is a factor if you see an unattended child in a vehicle, don't hesitate to call 911.

"Because children react so quickly you should call 911 right away and the dispatchers will send either a police officer, a firefighter, or an EMT over to make sure the child is okay," Carlin said calling the situation a "true emergency."

He says that sometimes kids will get back inside a vehicle without parents noticing.

"One thing parents need to do is to teach their children that their cars aren't a playground," Carlin said. "[They need to] put their keys up so the children can't gain access to their cars to get in it in the first place."

If your kids do come up missing, Carlin says to be sure and check your car and especially the trunk.

The Centers for Disease Control says that between 1979 and 2003 more people died from excessive heat exposure than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. The first child death this year happened in March in Texas when a woman forgot her six month old child in the car while she went to work.

It is against the law in Nebraska to leave a child under the age of six unattended in a vehicle.

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