Heatstroke Kills and Permanently Injures Children: Never Leave Kids Alone in the Car – They Can Die, Suffer Brain Damage, or Be Permanent Injured

Heatstroke Kills and Permanently Injures Children: Never Leave Kids Alone in the Car – They Can Die, Suffer Brain Damage, or Be Permanent Injured

According to the Chicago Children’s Hospital website, children can not only die from heatstroke after being left unattended in a vehicle (even with the windows cracked) but kids can also suffer permanent injuries from heatstroke: kids can get permanent brain damage or be forced to live a life dependent upon a ventilator as a result of heat-related injuries.   Children, especially those under 4 years old, are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness.

Image: Chart of Heatstroke Fatalities by State (KidsandCars.Org)

What is heatstroke?

The Illinois Department of Health defines heatstroke as:

Heatstroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106·F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heatstroke can result from overexposure to direct sunlight, with or without physical activity, or to very high indoor temperatures. It can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

According to SafeKids.Org, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children.  Their studies show that every 10 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle in the United States.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that around 40 children die every year from heatstroke after being left in cars (or other vehicles).

These statistics deal only with fatalities, of course.   The number of children who are harmed or permanently damaged from being left in a car and suffering heatstroke are much higher.

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • High body temperature (above 103°F)*
  • Hot, red, dry or moist skin
  • Rapid and strong pulse
  • Possible unconsciousness

It is the duty of parents, as well as caretakers of children (babysitters, nannies) and those supervising children (day care workers, bus drivers, school coaches, teachers), to monitor children in cars or buses or vans and make sure that they are safe from heat related illness.

Even sunlight beaming through the window glass can significantly raise the interior temperatures and many adults are not knowledgeable about how easily young people as well as infants can be hurt by heat.

This month, four children have died in this country due to heatstroke after being left in vehicles, all within one week’s time.  Two of these children died in school parking lots. In response, the NHTSA issued a press release warning about the dangers of heatstroke for children and asking caretakers to be aware of this very real danger for kids.

“Each year, especially during the summer months, we hear reports of the tragic loss of young children as a result of heatstroke in hot vehicles,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We hope everyone who cares about the safety of our children – parents, grandparents, caregivers and others – will follow the simple, and important, safeguards that can save lives and avoid unnecessary heartache.”

The agency warns that even a pleasant day with temperatures in the low 80s can be dangerous for children left in vehicles, since the interior can reach toxic levels within a mere 10 minutes time — and this is with the windows cracked 2 inches.

NHTSA recommends the following safety precautions:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle — even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away;
  • Ask the childcare provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected;
  • Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and,
  • Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.
  • In addition, NHTSA and Safe Kids urge community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number. A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.

Parents need to be aware of this risk to their kids.  They also need to know that those in whom they entrust their children are aware of this danger.  Death, brain damage, and permanent life altering personal injuries are a real risk to kids because of heat.  Better to protect against this happening than to be filing a personal injury claim or a wrongful death lawsuit after the harm has occurred.

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