In the summer months of Texas temperatures regularly soar into the triple digits. Extreme heat like that is bad enough when you’re outside, however, that type of summer heat can quickly become deadly for children left alone in a car. One of a parent’s worst nightmares could quickly become reality if you’re not careful. While you may think, “Oh that will never happen to me” please keep in mind that most parents who have experienced this tragedy said the same exact thing.
Hot car deaths, also known as vehicular heatstroke or hyperthermia deaths, occur when a child or a pet is left unattended inside a hot vehicle and the temperature inside the vehicle rises to dangerous levels, leading to serious injury or death. Hot car deaths are entirely preventable and can occur in various weather conditions, not just during extreme heatwaves.
The interior of a parked vehicle can heat up rapidly, even on a mild day, due to the greenhouse effect, where sunlight enters the vehicle but is trapped inside, causing the temperature to rise quickly. Studies have shown that the temperature inside a vehicle can increase by 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) within 10 minutes and by 50 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) or more within an hour, even when the outside temperature is moderate.
Hot car deaths can have devastating consequences for families and communities, and they are considered a serious public health concern. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable to heat-related injuries or death due to their smaller size, higher metabolic rate, and limited ability to regulate body temperature.
Statistics About Hot Car Deaths
According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the advocacy organization KidsAndCars.org, an average of 39 children die each year in the United States from heat-related deaths after being left in hot vehicles. Many of these incidents occur when a child is accidentally forgotten in a vehicle, or when a child gains access to a vehicle and becomes trapped inside without being able to exit. Cracking a window open for the child or even parking in the shade aren’t sufficient ways to protect a child in a locked car. Studies show that a child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than adult’s. Even if you think it’s “not that hot outside” even in 60-degree Fahrenheit temperatures your car can heat up to 110 degrees in a matter of minutes. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that heatstrokes are more common with the elderly and young people
Beyond the dangers that an overheating car pose to the children, the parents can receive criminal charges for leaving their little ones in the vehicle. This year a Georgia man is facing murder charges and child abuse for leaving his son in a locked vehicle. Although the parent might be seen as careless in forgetting about the child, the law takes a hard stance on these incidents.
Whether you are simply running errands and believe you’ll “just be a minute” running into a building, it’s a MUST that you take your child with you. The hot Texas summer is nothing to leave to chance when it comes to your loved ones. It’s important to take the extra steps in protecting our little ones just in case the unexpected happens.
Hot Cars Babies and Dogs
As the weather begins to warm and the summer approaches one of the real dangers of the summer has come upon us. People mistakenly leaving their loved ones, whether human or furry, unattended in hot cars. In South Texas, we are already experiencing 100 plus degree days so we can only expect it to get hotter. Whether a child is left in a car by accident or intentionally it only takes a matter of minutes for them to overheat. On 70-degree day temperatures inside of a car can reach over 100 degrees so it is ridiculous to consider how hot the inside of your car can reach in triple-digit weather. Your vehicle essentially becomes an oven. These extreme temperatures will cause a kid to quickly overheat leading to heatstroke, dehydration, seizure, and/or even worse death.
Small children are sometimes forgotten because they are in rear-facing car seats, miscommunication, or distraction on behalf of the adult. Overheating on the part of an infant or toddler can happen in a matter of minutes. But an even worse situation is when a child is left in the car while an adult goes running a quick errand. Even with the windows rolled down the temperature inside a vehicle can and will immediately spike. Anything can happen to cause a delay but even if the errand is an in and out trip it only takes a few minutes to cause irreversible harm. In Corpus Christi, it is unlawful to leave a child in a motor vehicle. The city ordinance reads as follows:
Sec. 53-10. – Leaving children in motor vehicles.
It is unlawful for a person to knowingly, intentionally, or with criminal negligence, leave a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five (5) minutes if the child is:
(1) Younger than seven (7) years of age, and
(2) Not attended by an individual who is fourteen (14) years of age or older.
The terms knowingly, intentionally, and criminal negligence as used in this section shall have the same meaning as set out in the definitions of these terms in the Texas Penal Code.
Child in McAllen Rescued From Hot Car
McAllen police rescued a one-year-old child locked in a car Tuesday afternoon. The incident happened at 4:20 p.m. with temperatures outside reaching into the upper 90s; inside the vehicle, the temperature was well in the triple digits. Police arrived on scene and saw the baby in a car seat, her face red and sweating. Officers quickly broke the window and were able to rescue the child. She appeared to be dehydrated and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Investigators later arrested Angel Horacio Lira who was believed to be the person that left the baby in the car. He is being charged with abandoning or endangering a child. There is currently no word on how long the child was left in the car.
So far this year, there has been a total of 5 heatstroke deaths of children who were locked in a car. Clinically speaking, a heatstroke is defined as when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory system is overwhelmed. After the core of a body reaches 107 degrees F, cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down which can rapidly lead to death. The total number of deaths of children left in cars between 1998-present is 705. Children that have died from these situations have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. Children who were 2 years of age or under account for more than half of the deaths. An examination of media reports about the 700 child vehicular heatstroke deaths shows the following circumstances:
- 54% – “forgotten” by caregiver (376 Children)
- 28% – playing in unattended vehicle (198)
- 17% – intentionally left in vehicle by adult (120)
- 1% – circumstances unknown (6)
There are “Unattended Child Laws” in 20 states that have language specific enough to address leaving a child unattended in a car, Texas being one of them. Below is a map of states with Unattended Child Laws.
Some states, 10 to be exact, have what is called “Good Samaritan Laws” with specific language that protects persons who see a child in a car and take action to render assistance. These states are: Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Vehicle Heating Dynamics
The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation (yellow in figure below) and are warmed little. However, this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes. For example, a dark dashboard, steering wheel or seat are often between the temperatures of 180 to over 200 degrees F. These objects heat the adjacent air by conduction and give off longwave radiation which is very efficient at warming the air that is stuck inside a car.
Child Heatstroke Prevention/Safety Tips
Provided by KidsAndCars.org, here are some tips to help parents and caregivers prevent heat stroke tragedies:
- Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
- “Look Before You Lock” – Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle. Make sure no one has been left behind.
- Create a reminder to check the back seat. •
- Put something you’ll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or briefcase, etc., in the back seat so that you have to open the back door to retrieve that item every time you park.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder that the child is in the back seat.
- Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages. Ask home visitors, child care providers and neighbors to do the same.
- Keep car keys and remote openers out of reach of children.
- If a child goes missing, immediately check the inside passenger compartments and trunks of all vehicles in the area very carefully, even if they are locked. A child may lock the car doors after entering a vehicle on their own, but may not be able to unlock them.
- If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
- Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays. This is when many tragedies occur.
- Use drive-thru services when available (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.) and pay for gas at the pump.
Just like small humans overheat and cannot withstand the extreme temperatures inside a closed vehicle neither can our furry friends. Unfortunately, the only way dogs can cool themselves is through panting. In a matter of minutes, a dog can suffer from heatstroke. Heatstroke symptoms include restlessness, excessive thirst, thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and lack of coordination. If you notice that a dog is exhibiting these symptoms immediately move them to an air-conditioned space. One can also spray the dog with cool (not ice cold) water. It is also not a bad idea to take the animal to the vet.
During the dog days of summer, a travesty can be avoided by simply checking your vehicle car when exiting. Remember to remove children and animals before emptying groceries or any purchases. It is also not a bad idea to leave a note or purchase a mirror that faces the child for the headrest to quickly check their car seats to see if a child has been left in the car.
New City Ordinance Requires San Antonio Pet Owners to Provide Pets with Shade
On this past Thursday, the San Antonio City Council approved and adopted revisions to the City Code that require owners of all outdoor pets to provide shade for their animals to be able to take shelter from direct sunlight when outdoors.
The idea was first sparked earlier this summer when a six-month-old shepherd mix named Molly sustained severe thermal injuries from prolonged exposure to the sun with no shelter. The owners surrendered Molly to the Animal Care Services where she received medical treatment and was able to recuperate. Since the incident, Molly has now been adopted.
New Revisions Define Shade
District 8 Councilman, Manny Paelez, along with the Animal Care Services and the Animal Defense league spearheaded the initiative and prepared the revisions to the City Code which was approved on Thursday. The new law went into effect immediately.
The new revisions included adding the definition of shade to the current code which gives officers the tools to be able to ensure that pets are safe. Shade can include patios, trees, canopies, and more. Essentially anything that provides the animals shade from direct sunlight and allows them to get out of the heat can be considered shade under the city code.
In a written statement to the San Antonio Express-News, Pelaez said: “adding the definition of shade to our current code brings a critical gap and provides ACS officers with the necessary tools to ensure our pets are safe, especially during the hot summer months.” The City code previously included various requirements for pet owners to provide animals with “humane care and treatment” but it did not go as far as to require owners to provide shade to the animals.
The new city ordinance can come with civil or criminal penalties and can result in fines up to $2,000.
How to Prevent Hot Car Deaths
To prevent hot car deaths, it is important to follow some safety measures:
- Never leave a child or a pet unattended in a vehicle, even for a short period of time. Always check the back seat before exiting the vehicle.
- Lock your vehicle at all times, even when parked in your driveway or garage, to prevent children from gaining access to the vehicle.
- Educate caregivers, such as grandparents, babysitters, and daycare providers, about the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles.
- Place a reminder, such as a stuffed animal or a bag, in the front seat as a visual cue to help you remember that a child is in the back seat.
- If you see a child or a pet alone in a hot vehicle, take immediate action by calling 911 and, if necessary, taking steps to remove the child or pet from the vehicle.
- Be vigilant during the warmer months and be aware of the risks of heat-related injuries or death in vehicles, even on mild or overcast days.
It’s important to spread awareness about the dangers of hot car deaths and take preventive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of children and pets.
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