Don’t Leave Your Children In Hot Cars

Summer is coming, temperatures are rising, and children are dying. Here’s a reminder to never leave your children in hot cars.

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How is it that children are still dying because of lack of parental common sense? The cabin of a car gets oven-like in the heat of the sun and children shouldn’t be left alone in those conditions. This isn’t a hard principle to understand, but to hammer this into those few thick skulls who won’t heed a normal warning, since the government began tracking car-related heat deaths of children in 1998, 800 children have perished because of their parent’s shortsighted decisions. That is an appalling number. 

Parent’s tend to forget that children aren’t fully capable of regulating their own internal temperatures as adults do. They don’t understand how to cool themselves off. Neither are they likely to ask for assistance when they become too hot or too cold. Children’s internal temperatures also rise three to five times as fast as an adult. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “As a result [of not being able to regulate their temperature], children are more likely to develop significant health effects when they are exposed to environmental temperature extremes.” 

On warm days, a car’s interior temperature can fluctuate from what the driver left it at to 172 degrees according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The interior acts like a solar oven as it pulls in and retains the heat from the sun and the ambient outside temperatures—i.e. the sun doesn’t need to be out for temperatures to soar. Speaking to temperature fluctuation, a study written by the aforementioned AAP stated, “A car’s interior temperature can rise approximately 40 degrees within one hour, even when the exterior temperature is only 72 degrees.” 

Given the capacity for temperatures to rise so quickly, even just swift runs outside the car have the potential for overheating a child’s sensitive internal temperature. The effects on a child, however, can be lasting and painful with the AAP stating that exposure to extreme heat can, “produce several health effects in children, the most common of which is dehydration. Heat extremes can also lead to heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke. Children can develop faintness, extreme tiredness, and headache, and even fever and intense thirst. Other signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, vomiting, hyperventilation, and skin numbness or tingling.” And death, as we’ve discussed, is a real possibility.

As for those who believe that “cracking a window” or two will help dissipate the rising heat inside a car, the AAP has a few words on that too, saying, “In terms of heat-rise over time, it makes very little difference whether a car’s windows are closed or partially open.” The CDC concurs, affirming, “Leaving a window open is not enough. Temperatures inside the car can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, even with a window cracked.” In short, “cracking a window” doesn’t do anything. 

And if your child’s safety and health aren’t good enough reasons to not leave them alone in a hot car, 19 U.S. states have made it illegal to leave them alone in a car. There are another 13 states with proposed legislation on the books. In addition to the legal repercussions to the parent or the adult who leaves the child behind—depending on the outcome of a child’s health, parents could see jail time—there are 23 states with “Good Samaritan” provisions that make it legal for a passer-by to come to the aid of a child if they’re left alone and the passer-by believes they need assistance. That could mean anything from the police being called or them breaking one of your car windows. 

“Children can die when left in a closed car or truck even when the outside temperature is not that high,” reiterates the AAP. 800 children have died in the past 20 years. They’ve needlessly died. Always take your children with you, even if it’s just to grab a sandwich, gallon of milk, or pack of cigarettes. Their lives are in your hands. Don’t be stupid.