Summer heat and unattended children could spell disaster inside a locked car

Going into the store will only take a few minutes. It takes so long to get the car seat unbuckled. They’re perfectly safe in a locked car.

These are the excuses that many parents use to justify leaving their children in a vehicle unattended. But the consequences of cutting parental corners can be deadly.

As the mercury rises and the heat of the summer becomes more intense, the chances of a child left alone in a car becoming injured or killed is even more likely.

“We did a test earlier in the summer where we put a thermometer inside of a vehicle and one outside,” said Susan Burchfield, Injury Prevention/Outreach Coordinator and Safe Kids Mid-Texas Coalition Coordinator. “It was 30 degrees warmer inside the car than outside. And it only took five minutes for the car to reach that temperature.”

It doesn’t take long for the child to be overcome by the heat. Because of their small body mass and size, they heat up faster.

Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, occurs when a person’s body temperature reaches or exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include dizziness, disorientation, hallucinations and loss of consciousness.

Between 1998 and 2010, there have been 469 deaths in the US related to hyperthermia, with an average of 37 deaths per year.

“Seven children in Texas have already died this year from being left in the car,” Burchfield said. “And four children have been rescued in this area.”

Not only could leaving a child unattended in a hot car be deadly, it could also mean jail time for the parents or caregivers.

Texas law states that if a person intentionally or knowingly leaves a child under the age of seven in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, they are subject to a misdemeanor charge. And if the child is injured, the charge could become a felony. That means the person in question could be facing six months to two years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.

The easiest way to keep your children safe from hyperthermia is to never leave them in a vehicle alone, and make sure they do not have access to car keys or garage door openers.

But to further ensure that you won’t ever forget your children in the car, Safe Kids Mid-Texas offers some tips to help parents remember their precious cargo.

  • Set your cell phone or Blackberry reminder to be sure you drop your child off at daycare.
  • Set your computer’s appointment reminder program to ask you, “Did you drop off at daycare today?”
  • Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase or gym bag on the floor in the front of the child in the back seat. This forces the adult to open the back door and observe the child.
  • Have a plan with your child care provider to call you if your child does not arrive when expected.
  • Keep keys and remote entry keys out of children’s reach.
  • Lock all vehicles at all times.
  • Check cars and trunks first if a child goes missing.

For more information on preventing hyperthermia and other childhood safety issues, please call Safe Kids Mid-Texas at 254-724-1431..

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Summer heat and unattended children could spell disaster inside a locked car