That blast of scorching air hitting your face as you open your car door should be enough to tell you two things: Summer is definitely here and, as hot as it is outside, it’s even hotter in your car.
Summer temperatures mean a greater danger for kids or animals sitting in parked cars. Two Arizona children have died in hot cars so far this year, both in the past few weeks. Those deaths are two of 22 across the nation so far in 2010, according to Golden Gate Weather Service, a website that tracks child deaths due to hyperthermia at http://ggweather.com/heat/index.htm.
The first Arizona death occurred June 21 when a Phoenix family forgot an 18-month-old boy in a family vehicle. The second happened in Chandler July 13, when a 3-year-old went missing and likely climbed into his mother’s vehicle.
To help parents avoid the horrible scenario of finding a child in the car who has succumbed to heatstroke or hyperthermia, Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Passenger Safety Coordinator and Ahwatukee Foothills resident Angelica Baker had a few tips for making sure kids don’t get stuck in a hot vehicle.
Deviating from a normal routine is one of the top reasons kids are forgotten in the car, Baker said.
“If a routine changes – if mom suddenly has to drop the kids off at daycare and dad’s the one who usually does this – even that could throw things off,” she said.
To prevent that from happening, Baker recommended setting up contingency plans. If a daycare provider expects a child who doesn’t show up, make sure that provider knows to call and see what happened. Or make sure parents call each other to make sure the child is where he or she is supposed to be.
Giving yourself a reason to look toward the car seat helps, too. Baker recommended putting items you’ll automatically reach for as you leave the car in the backseat, like a purse or cell phone, to make sure you have a reason to look behind you. Visual cues also work, like placing a stuffed animal in a car seat that gets placed next to the driver when there’s a child riding in the car.
While more deaths occur in summer months, it’s important to remain vigilant year-round. One child died in Florida this year when it was only 73 degrees outside.
A 2005 study by American Academy of Pediatrics showed vehicle temperatures can reach 117 degrees in an hour when it’s only 72 degrees outside. And cracking the window doesn’t help – heat will climb at a slightly slower rate at first, but temperatures were exactly the same after an hour.
And cars with cracked windows can still have temperatures rise 19 degrees in just 10 minutes, Baker said.
Plus, there are physiological reasons kids are more susceptible to heat.
“A baby can’t control their temperature as well as an adult,” Baker said. “Their body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult’s.”
Beyond making sure kids aren’t forgotten in the car, Baker cautioned some parents have found kids have climbed into a hot vehicle themselves.
“Sometimes they’re playing around, they think they want to drive like mom and dad, and they get trapped,” Baker said.
Keeping parked cars locked and hiding car keys can help prevent that danger.
And if you lose track of your children, Baker said there are two places you should always look:
“Check the pool and also the car.”