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Hot Weather and Vehicles Can be a Deadly Combo for Kids

July 05, 2011

For some reason, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.

Unfortunately, the number of heat stroke deaths from children being left in vehicles is trending upward – since 1998 over 495 young children have fallen victim to this tragedy. And 2010 was the worst year on record, with 49 deaths. 

“A few minutes might not seem like a long time, but there are circumstances when it can mean the difference between life and death.  As temperatures begin to heat up now that spring has arrived and summer is knocking at our door, children are at a serious risk for heat stroke when left alone even for a few minutes in a closed vehicle,” said Mandi Summers, co-coordinator, Safe Kids of Western Mass. headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital. 

And, it doesn’t even have to be a scorching day for tragedy to strike, it can be relatively mild, noted Summers.

“Ever notice how your car can be nice and warm even on a cool day?

That’s because the inside of a vehicle can rise 19 degrees above the outside temperature in just 10 minutes. And, after an hour, the temperature inside and outside of a vehicle can differ by 45 degrees or more – even if the window is left open a crack,” said Summers.

“No one ever thinks this tragedy could strike them, and that is why it’s essential to get this message out, especially as the weather starts heating up,” she added.

Heat is much more dangerous to children than it is to adults.

“When left in a hot vehicle, a young child’s core body temperature may increase three to five times faster than that of an adult, which could cause permanent injury or even death,” said Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma and Emergency Surgery Services at Baystate Medical Center.

He noted heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms can include dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat and hallucinations.

“When anyone‘s core body temperature surpasses 104 degrees Fahrenheit to reach 107 degrees, the consequences are lethal,” said Dr. Gross.

According to research conducted by San Francisco State University, more than half of these children were accidentally left behind in a closed, parked car by parents or caregivers, while nearly a third of these children were trapped while playing in a vehicle unattended. Sadly, one in five children who died were intentionally left in the vehicle by an adult.

Safe Kids suggests these tips for parents and caregivers:

  • Teach children not to play in, on or around vehicles.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open.
  • Always lock a vehicle’s doors and trunk – especially at home. Keep keys and remote entry devices out of children’s reach.
  • Place something that you’ll need at your next stop – such as a purse, a lunch, gym bag or briefcase – on the floor of the backseat where the child is sitting. This simple act could help prevent you from accidentally forgetting a child.

Safe Kids USA has launched a national awareness campaign to reduce child deaths from heat stroke. The “Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car” program is a key component of Safe Kids Buckle Up, which was created by Safe Kids USA and General Motors in 1996 to teach families how to keep children safer in and around vehicles and to educate families on the dangers kids face in hot vehicles.

Safe Kids of Western Mass. works to prevent accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children 14 and under. Safe Kids of Western Mass is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental injury. The local coalition was founded in 1992 and is headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

For more information about summer safety, call Safe Kids of Western Mass. headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital at 413-794-6510 or visit