Too hot to handle: Summer vehicle safety
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27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Six months into 2014, 13 children have already lost their lives due to heatstroke after being forgotten or intentionally left in parked vehicles. If national averages echo those of recent years, another 25 children will lose their lives to vehicular hyperthermia before the hot season is over.
According to an article published in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies indicate that on days when temperatures are in excess of 86 degrees Fahrenheit, a vehicle’s internal temperatures quickly rise to between 134 and 154 degrees.
“The air temperature inside vehicles rises dramatically, which is often overlooked by many parents and other caregivers,” said Donnie Roberts, Eastern New Mexico’s Region III Emergency Medical Services executive director. “The temperature inside a vehicle parked in the sun can increase by approximately 20 degrees in 10 minutes. By 20 minutes, the inside air temperature can be 29 degrees higher than ambient temperatures. By 60 minutes, some vehicles can reach interior temperatures of 140-180 degrees.”
“Even a brief exposure in a vehicle can expose a child to heatstroke, but fatalities usually result from long exposure,” Roberts continued. “This can occur in as little as 15 minutes, but the average exposure time is approximately 4.5 hours.”
Based on data obtained from The Weather Channel website, the average summer high at Cannon Air Force Base is 89 degrees. As spring gives way to summer heat waves, Air Commandos are advised to take special precautions so that busy lifestyles don’t equate to fatal distractions.
“Vehicular hyperthermia among young children began increasing as laws requiring restraint of young children in backseats were introduced in the 1990s,” Roberts explained. “As an unintended consequence of this very successful public health intervention, combined with increasing distraction from cell phones and busy schedules, the frequency of children being left in cars increased because children in car seats are now less visible to drivers.”
Though no parent believes they could ever be distracted enough to forget their child, vehicular hyperthermia has claimed the lives of children belonging to extremely diverse family demographics. Data also indicates that mothers and fathers are equally likely to be negligent.
As hyperthermia-related deaths became increasingly more prevalent, studies to determine the physiological processes that take place in a victim’s body were conducted to both educate caretakers and assert the importance of vigilance.
“Young children strapped into a car seat are both developmentally and physically unable to free themselves, remove clothing, or drink fluids,” Roberts said. “The body’s ability to automatically regulate temperature fails as a result of increased and unrelieved body heat and hyperthermia develops due to the body producing or absorbing more heat than it dissipates.”
“As heatstroke progresses, dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities develop, which affect cardiac function, and the child is unable to maintain adequate cardiac output,”
Roberts continued. “The child will begin to gasp deeply in an attempt to blow off heat and unconsciousness follows. The continued heat may progress to cerebral edema or swelling of the brain. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death.”
In order to safeguard Cannon’s youngest Air Commandos and prevent further tragedy, parents and caregivers are advised to take the following precautions:
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle; not even for a second.
• If a child is unattended in a hot vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately.
• Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.
• Always lock the car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.
• Teach children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
• Keep a stuffed animal in car seats and when the child is strapped in the seat place the animal in the front passenger seat to serve as a visual reminder.
• Place a purse or briefcase in the back seat so there is a mandatory cause to check that area of the vehicle.
• Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever getting out of the car.
• Have a plan that childcare providers will call if the child does not show up for school or daycare.
For additional information, visit kidsandcars.org or contact a pediatric healthcare provider.