Kids, Cars, and Heatstroke: Tips for Parents to Avoid Tragedy

For parents, the worst thought in the world is that of something happening to your children. Heartbreakingly, children die or are seriously injured each year from heatstroke in hot vehicles. Perhaps the worst part is that these deaths and injuries are preventable.

Heatstroke often occurs when children, without the knowledge of their parents or caregivers, get into unlocked vehicles to play. It can also happen when a parent or caregiver who is not used to transporting a child unintentionally forgets a quiet baby or sleeping child in the back seat of the car.

Most people think that heatstroke can only happen in the summer, but it can occur even when outside temperatures are as low as the 50s. Even with windows rolled down a couple of inches and an outdoor temperature in the lower 80s, it only takes ten minutes for the temperatures inside a car can elevate to deadly levels. Children’s bodies overheat more easily than adults’, with infants and children under four at the greatest risk.

Avoid heartbreak by never leaving babies or children unattended in a vehicle, even if the windows are partially open, the engine is on with the AC running, or it’s a cloudy day. Teach your kids that they should never play in or near cars, and keep your car locked with the keys out of reach. If a child goes missing, check the entire car, including the trunk and enclosed beds on trucks.

Give yourself reminders that a child is in the vehicle, especially if you don’t normally transport kids. Place your purse or briefcase in the back seat, leave a note or stuffed animal in the front seat, set a reminder on your phone, or all of the above. Make it a habit to check all of the seats before locking the doors and leaving. If you’re dropping your kids off at childcare, have the provider call you if your child doesn’t arrive by a certain time. If it’s normally someone else’s job to drop off the kids, have him or her call you to make sure everything went smoothly.

Finally, if you see a child or children alone in a hot car, call 911 immediately. If they’re already showing signs of distress from the heat, get them out of the car as quickly as possible and cool them by spraying them with cool water or a garden hose set to spray gently. Avoid ice baths unless under the direction of a medical professional.

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