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