Understanding the Dangers of Babies Left in Hot Cars (VIDEO)


Safe Kids, the leader in research and advocacy of child safety in the US, has posted a very sad journal about the first baby to die in a hot car in 2011. Six-month-old Carlson was left in the car in New Braunfels, Texas, on an 82-degree day on March 8. Sadly, the same exact day last year marked its first reported baby death from hyperthermia on a 73-degree day in Fort Myers, Florida. Last year, there were over 49 deaths of kids who died alone in a vehicle. The "hot season" has started.

Seventy-three degrees might not be considered a hot day. But it's hot enough for your baby to be in danger. According to the lovely woman I spoke to at Safe Kids, 18 percent of these deaths were babies who were left there intentionally -- that's 9 deaths last year of kids who were left "just for a minute" who didn't need to die.

Thirty percent were kids who got into the car without their parent's knowledge, and almost all were under the age of 4. Why is this so deadly, and still happening? Part of it is lack of understanding how quickly cars can heat up, and taking preventative steps even at home.

A time-lapse video from Safe Kids shows how heat gets into a car and can't get back out, and a vehicle left on an 80-degree day will be at almost 100 -- that's an almost 20-degree rise -- in only 10 minutes. Ten minutes can be the amount of time it takes to go into a grocery store, grab milk and eggs, and pay for it. Time yourself doing things you think are quick -- it's not long at all before 10 minutes is up.

Sadly, only 18 states have any type of law about leaving children in cars, but they oddly include the three states with the highest percentage of deaths (California, Texas, and Florida, not surprisingly due to the heat), but 14 more have proposed legislation.

A child's body heats up three to five times faster than an adult's, so they're less able to tolerate heat than we are, and small babies especially struggle to regulate their own temperature. The Department of Geosciences reported around 31 percent of the deaths as children under 1, 21 percent in the 12- to 24-month range, 13 percent are 2-3 years old, and it goes down from there ... but even includes deaths of teenagers.

When the body hits 104 degrees, heat stroke kicks in -- dizziness, confusion, seizure, and hallucinations ... a child could hit this within 20 minutes of being left in the car on what a parent would consider a "reasonable" day -- if it's 80 degrees outside, after 20 minutes, it's 109 in the car.

At 107, cellular damage begins and internal organs shut down -- this is hyperthermia. The body can't reach this temperature naturally (with the exception of brain infections), and it can't lower the temperature fast enough to fight it either -- in fact, the body stops sweating with heat stroke. Surprisingly, cracking the windows had little to NO effect whatsoever; within an hour, cars could be 45-50 degrees hotter than outside, with the hottest cars being those with darker interiors.

We need to start talking about this now. The "hot season" is here. Awareness can help save kids.

Did you know how quickly cars could heat up?


Image via Ernst Vikne/Flickr

baby health, car seat safety, safety


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purpl... purpleducky

And honestly I will still leave my kids in the car while I run into Sunoco for a Mt. Dew. If it is hot out, I leave the car running but lock the doors or roll the windows down and lock the doors. If it is cold, I just lock the doors. It never takes more than 5 minutes. And where I live it isn't illegal and our most wanted are people who refuse to pay child support so the chance of a kidnapping or car theft are almost zero.

jagam... jagamama0710

OMG, this reminds me of last Aug or Sep (in southern Georgia) we were walking into Babies R Us and I heard a newborn baby cry. It sounded really close but no cars were running and there weren't any people in the close vicinity. I pinpointed it to an SUV that was 2 spots away from our car. There were no adults in the car. The back window was cracked a bit. The windows were tinted but I peeked in and yep, brand newborn baby screaming her poor little head off. I was horrified. My husband ran into the store because he was right by the door and they came out. As soon as they came back out, a woman came running over from the Toys R Us that was right next door. She said she was the grandma and she had gone into Toys R Us, leaving her daughter w/ her grandbaby in the car. Apparently the mom had decided to just go shop around in Babies R Us. The clerk was calling the cops I think. We needed to get in and out so as soon as I knew the baby was going to have someone with her, we moved on. I was PISSED. I had my children with me or I would have gone off on the woman, the BRU clerk seemed to be doing a good job of that anyway. 

jalaz77 jalaz77

Yes I actually did know that. I saw a topic like this on the news before I had kids. It's sad that people still intentionally leave kids in the car. I leave my 5 y/o dd in the car while I drop the boys off at daycare, the car is started with heat or air on, locked and her front door is literally 10 steps away from my car door.

butte... butterflymkm

I wouldn't ever hesitate to just bust open the window if I saw a child left alone in a car. You can sue me if you want to but I probably saved your kids life. I don't even agree with leaving DOGS in a parked car and I have called animal control on hot days when I see it. Nothing alive should have to suffer like that.

nonmember avatar LearnfromMe

Leaving a kid in a car is no joke and it is TOTALLY irresponsible to leave your kid in the car while you run in for a drink at a gas station. Stop by a drive-thru instead. If you accidently lock your child in the car with windows rolled up CALL 911 RIGHT AWAY. A fire truck will arrive in no time complete with lights and sirens with no charge (at least in Florida).

melis... melissabilliot

A jr.high teacher in my town lost her daughter about two weeks ago...she forgot her in the car...and didn't realize it until she went to the daycare to pick the baby up....the baby was only 5 months

RozyMama RozyMama

Great article - so many people really jsut don't understand how quickly cars heat up and how dangerous this is for a child.  I would love to also see something about chidlren left in cars accidentally, as in the PP's (melissa's) story.  So many think "I could never forget my child" but it happens to even the most conscientous parents under the right (wrong) circumstances, and there are some simple tips and even some techy tools to prevent this type of tragedy. 

melis... melissabilliot

Yeah from what I understand she was a VERY loving mother.....I live in a VERY small

Town so runoff are crazy about what happened that day...my prayers are with her and her family

melis... melissabilliot

*****sorry that was suppose

To say rumors are crazy

Nicho... NicholasMama608

Here unless the kid is unconscious the police/fire dept CAN'T open your car.  You have to call a locksmith.


However I leave DS in the car for a min or two.  Only if I can see the car and depending on the temp.  If it is hot he comes out with me but if it is nice out I will unroll the front windows or even leave the front doors open.  We live in a very rural area, like we have 10 people in my town so I'm not worried about leaving the car totally open while I pay for gas real quick..  LOL

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