The dangers of children and hot cars

With the temperature on the increase and the British summer setting in, people are hitting the roads for exciting day trips with their little ones.

Kids in hot cars

When we think of hot sunny days, we all know just how hot our car can feel when we get back in after a day out. Each summer there are media campaigns about never leaving dogs unattended in hot cars but what about our children? Hot cars can lead to dehydration, heatstroke and even death in children so make sure you know how to protect your children this summer.

The dangers of hot cars and children

The dangers of cars and children is not all about external elements (e.g. crashes, being run over, hiding under a car), it’s also about internal safety. From electric window incidents to wearing a seat belt incorrectly, safety inside cars is just as important as outside.

One major safety concern that is often overlooked, is the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. Often associated with dogs, people can be quick to assume that their child will be fine sleeping in their car seat whilst they run some quick errands

Temperatures inside parked cars can soar in a very short space of time. Children who are left for even a short space of time can become dehydrated and suffer from heatstroke, which can lead to hyperthermia and even death. Tots under the age of two are at the top of the ‘at risk’ group of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

In the US, where summer temperatures can soar, there has been upwards of 519 infant deaths resulting from being left in a hot car since 1998. But the danger doesn’t just occur in warmer climates.

On a hot, sunny day in Britain where we might be enjoying 22°C (72°F) outside, the temperature inside a car can soar to 47°C (117°F) or even higher in an hour.

Temperatures inside a parked car

In 2005, a study was conducted in California by Stanford University to measure the temperature rise in cars. Lead author, Catherine McLaren likened leaving children in a parked car, even on a cloudy day, to leaving your child in a sauna. She said, “Even on relatively mild-temperature days, the internal temperature of a vehicle left in the sun quickly gets very warm – the average rise in one hour is 22°C,”

As all previous studies had focused on outdoor temperatures of no less than 28°C, McLaren and her team tested lower temperatures on cloudy days starting at 22°C to show parents that the danger still exists even if the sun isn’t out. The team measured the heat change in a parked car every five minutes for an hour.

No matter what the starting temperature was outside, the team found that the temperature rose quickly at the same rate despite it being a cooler day. The majority of the final heat quickly accumulated in the first 30 minutes and keeping windows open a crack hardly slowed down the climbing temperature at all.

The study finished by pointing out that toddlers are more susceptible to heat illnesses as their body temperatures rise much faster and the lose proportionately more water than adults do.

Safety tips

As the British weather can be deceiving, parents may not realise the dangers of leaving their child in a parked car. Children who can open car doors may hide inside them, get left inside by accident or climb in and become trapped. Follow these simple tips to ensure you’re child isn’t in any danger.

To keep your kids safe:

  1. Don’t leave them in a parked car alone, especially on a hot, sunny day
  2. Leave the doors of a parked car unlocked so children can escape in case of an emergency – in 2010, two English children aged six and 10 were rescued from a hot car after writing ‘help’ on the condensation in the window after their care provider left them in a locked car for an hour. The children were taken to hospital for treatment.
  3. Don’t leave your child sleeping in the car, although you might have a grumpy tot, it’s better safe than risking heatstroke
  4. If you are with your child and waiting for someone in a parked car, keep all windows down and measure the temperature, wait outside if it’s cooler
  5. Always lock your car and secure the keys so that your kids can’t get to them
  6. Warn your kids about playing in the car by themselves without adult supervision
  7. Get your kids out of the car first, and then worry about getting the groceries, etc., out of the car when you get home
  8. Make sure that child care providers have a plan to make sure that kids aren’t left in the day care providers car or van
  9. Carry a spare set of keys in case you become locked out of your car whilst your children are on the inside
  10. Bring plenty of water to keep little ones hydrated on road trips

Source: Pediatrics Journal
Photography: D Sharon Pruitt @Flickr

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