Beat the Heat.  Check the Backseat.

During the summer, we think of BBQs, the beach, spending time with family and hot weather. In Louisiana, we frequently reach temperatures in the upper 80s and mid 90s,  and with this in mind, we have to be extra cautious to never leave our children in the car unattended.

So far this year, heat stroke is the cause of at least 15 deaths of children in vehicles in the United States. That number reached 44 last year. This is such a preventable death that we need to be mindful at all times about how to protect our kids.

A heat stroke is defined as a core body temperature above 104 degrees with symptoms that include dizziness, agitation, sluggishness, seizure, hot skin, rapid heartbeat and possible death due to organs shutting down from the extreme heat. 

When it is 75 degrees outside, it only take 10 minutes for the internal temperature of a car to reach 100 degrees. In 85 degree outside temperature (common for our area), a car’s internal temperature will reach 100 degrees in about 7 minutes and up to 120 degrees in 30 minutes. With this said, no amount of time is safe to leave your children in a car unattended with no AC.  The car quickly becomes an oven and studies show that cracking the window has very little effect.

More than half of the children that have died from vehicle heat stroke are children under the age of two.  In 51% of deaths, the child is “forgotten” by the care giver. In other cases, children gained access to an unattended vehicle or were left in a vehicle intentionally.

As a parent, I always make sure to take my kids out of the car even if I’m just running in for a minute. Yes, sometimes it takes longer to get your children out of the car and back in than it does to run the errand, but why take a risk?  When my husband drops off our infant, I usually call or text him to ask how he was when he dropped him off—just as a quick reminder he was in charge that day.

What can we do to prevent such a horrible accident?

  • Never leave your child unattended in a vehicle, even for a minute.  Be sure everyone in the vehicle leaves when unloading and watch for sleeping infants.
  • Use a “look before you leave” approach and it will become routine. You can place something in the car seat and anytime your child is placed in the seat, move that object in front with you as a reminder your child is in the seat. 
  • Have a backup plan with your school/daycare to call you if your child does not show up. 
  • Teach your children that the car is not a place to play. 
  • If your child is missing, make sure to check your vehicle, including the trunk, for them.
  • And if you see an unattended child in a hot car, make sure to call 911.

We are all overstressed, running from place to place just trying to keep up with our day’s activities.  But if we just stop for a second to check, we can prevent a disaster.

Alicia DePaula

Alicia DePaula, MD
Dr. DePaula earned her medical degree from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, LA in 2003.  She went on to complete her... read more