father placing baby boy in carseat

Preventing Vehicular Heatstroke

By: Cristina Moreno, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center

My husband has always joked that I am scared of everything, and this has never been more true than since we became parents. I feel like there are constant fears going through my mind, and while some are completely normal, sometimes my worries get the best of me and they can become a bit excessive. Any time my son is going somewhere without me, even if it is just for a few hours, the fears creep up. What if his seat belt is not put on properly? What if he eats something and has an allergic reaction? What if he puts a finger in a socket or topples furniture on himself? The “what ifs” of parenting drive me crazy, and me voicing “what ifs” for every possible situation drive my husband crazy. But as a mom, I give myself a free pass to worry a bit, because that is my job.

My son has so many people that take great care of him, but I know that accidents can happen anywhere and with anyone, so I think it is important to minimize risk whenever possible.  Now that the weather is warmer, one of my concerns is the possibility of him accidentally being left in a car in the heat. Most of the time, I am the one dropping him off and picking him up throughout the week, but he does sometimes ride in his dad’s truck, or goes out with his grandparents, which means there is not always a set routine regarding who is transporting him. Although I feel it is very unlikely that he would ever be forgotten in a car, it happens to families every year, especially when children fall asleep during car rides, and vehicular heatstroke can happen quite quickly. According to various reports and child safety sites, an estimated 37 children die from heatstroke every year due to being left in a car. KidsandCars.org provides a very informative fact sheet that explains some of the reasons leaving a child in a car is so dangerous. According to the KidsandCars.org database:

  • Due to a greenhouse effect in vehicles, temperatures inside vehicles can reach as high as 125 degrees within minutes, even if the windows are cracked.
  • A child’s body overheats 2 to 3 times faster than that of adults.
  • Children have died in hot cars even when the outside temperature was as low as 60 degrees.

While learning about these situations is very frightening, the good news is that these accidents are completely preventable, and the issue is increasingly gaining attention from lawmakers, manufacturers, parents, and even kids! One effort on behalf of U.S. Representatives from Ohio, Illinois, and New York is the Hot Cars Act 2016, which if passed, would require all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with technology that would alert drivers if a child is left in the backseat after the vehicle is turned off. Other new technology, such as the interactive map app WAZE and a new car seat model available on the market, allow you to program an alert that will remind you there is a child in the backseat when you reach your destination or turn off your vehicle. However, high tech gadgets and apps are not the only ways to keep your child safe this summer. I have read stories of several people who have made simple inventions that can potentially save the lives of young children. Two of these inventors include an 11 year-old boy who used rubber bands to create a cord that attaches from the back seat to the driver’s door handle that needs to be unlatched before exiting the vehicle and serves as a reminder not to leave a child behind, and a 4th grade student who created a similar device using Velcro and a stretchable cord that attaches to the baby’s car seat and directly to the car keys. Neither product is available on the market, but that is ok because these kids were nice enough to provide free tutorials on how to make your own here. Another quick and easy solution, although perhaps not the most reliable if you are a bit forgetful, is to leave items you always carry with you, such as a purse, wallet, or phone, in the backseat with your child, just as an extra precaution.

Accidentally leaving a child in a car on a hot day can have very serious consequences. While we wait for more car seat and vehicle manufacturers to continue to develop this important technology, we can at least know that there are easy and affordable ways to ensure we never leave our children behind.

How do you ensure your child’s safety on hot days?

References:

http://www.kidsandcars.org/files/2016/06/HS_factsheetRGB.jpg

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