Before the mid-1990s, infants traveling in automobiles were usually strapped into car seats located in the front passenger seat. While no number of infant deaths is acceptable, infant mortalities during that time were relatively low. Only about 10 children per year died from being left in hot cars in that era.
Airbags were introduced in the early 1990s. Their violent impact made it unsafe for babies’ car seats to be located in the front seat (63 children died from front seat airbag impacts in 1993 alone). At about the same time, researchers learned that infants’ car seats which faced to the rear were safer. Since then, infants have been traveling almost exclusively in the rear seat.
A baby in the backseat might as well be invisible
Out of sight, out of mind = tragedy. When children began traveling out of their parents’ field of view, those parents began to forget that they were not alone. When this forgetfulness converges with elevated temperatures, the results become tragic. Over the last couple of decades, infant deaths caused by being left alone in overheated car have increased to a yearly average of 37.
87% of children who die in hot cars are three years old or younger
54% of babies who die in hot cars are simply forgotten
27% of children who die in hots cars are playing in an unattended vehicle, without their parents’ knowledge
18% of babies who die in hot cars are intentionally left there by an adult who thinks no harm can possibly occur
How long does it take for the temperature in a car to become fatal?
In an effort to reduce these needless hot car deaths, researchers at Arizona State University conducted a new study to determine how long it takes automobiles to heat up to deadly temperatures on hot days. Their results deserve our attention. On a day when the external temperature reached 95°F, the temperature inside cars parked in the sun reached 116°F within an hour. The dashboards heated up to a blistering (literally) 157° and the seats reached 123°.
What causes heatstroke and a hot car death?
Heatstroke can occur at any time after a child’s core body temperature rises above 104°F (40°C). 107°F is usually fatal. A child’s active metabolism causes his body heat to elevate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult overheats. Putting those numbers in context, the physiological condition of an average two-year-old boy would meet the criteria for heatstroke after an hour’s exposure to the temperatures reached in the test car, and another hour’s exposure to those same temperatures would almost certainly kill him.
What are the signs and symptoms of heatstroke?
Here are the most common signs of heatstroke. Even after getting into a hot car with your children, be sure to watch for these heatstroke symptoms. And get that a/c going!
- Rapid shallow breathing
How can we prevent these family catastrophes?
It was technology which inadvertently put more children at risk by inventing airbags, and technology can help us avoid killing our children. Some new vehicles feature automatic reminders to check the back seat. When a rear door is opened and closed, either within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or while the car is running, five chimes sound, and a message to check the back seat is displayed on the instrument panel when the vehicle is shut off.
Another available device generates a series of tones which will sound within two seconds after the vehicle is shut off. This musical message, designed to remind a driver that a child is in the rear seat, is received through a wireless receiver, coupled with a “smart” chest clip.
Some decidedly low-tech methods can be incorporated into a parent’s routine.
You can create effective homemade reminders that your child is in the car. Place something that you absolutely can’t leave your car without, like your wallet, purse, briefcase, or phone, next to your infant’s rear car seat. Or keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it is empty. When you put your baby in the rear seat, move the stuffed animal to the right front seat, where you’ll see it before you exit the vehicle.
Whatever it takes, coach, train, and remind yourself to remain aware of your child’s presence in your car. You must never, ever, leave any child alone in any car, under any circumstances, for any reason, at any time. To reinforce this, remember that California law mandates, without exception, that a child under 12 may not be left in a car without an adult present.
As the days become much warmer, the facts about children left unattended in cars are my first summer safety tip. Let me know what you think!
As one of the nation’s leading OB-GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecological care. Supported by her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi treats women through all phases of life and fosters the special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor. We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.
As one of the nation’s leading OB-GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in obstetric care. Supported by her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi treats women through all phases of life and fosters the special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
We also invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863- 6700.