Hyperthermia is experienced when someone has a very high body temperature, which occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate. Vehicle-induced hyperthermia occurs when a child is left in a vehicle on a warm day. The internal temperature in the vehicle rises rapidly. Studies have shown that the temperature in a vehicle can rise 20 degrees in ten minutes, even when the windows are cracked open. Dark vehicle interiors absorb heat, which also increases the interior temperature.
Since statistics started being compiled in 1998, an average of 38 children have died every year from being left in a vehicle in warm weather. More than half of these deaths were in children under the age of two. The states with the highest yearly average of deaths are California, Texas and Florida. But deaths have occurred in the upper Midwest, too, including South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and Nebraska.
Causes of Auto-Induced Hyperthermia
The child was left in the vehicle by mistake: 52 percent
The child was playing in a vehicle: 30 percent
The child was intentionally left in the vehicle: 17 percent
Unknown: 1 percent
Most of the deaths occurred when a child was left in the vehicle by mistake. This usually occurs when the family routine is disrupted or changed in some way.
- The child falls asleep in the car seat and the adult forgets the child is there.
- Dad drops the child off at daycare instead of Mom, or vice versa.
- The parent is extremely stressed or distracted.
- A non-custodial parent has the child during a visitation period.
- Someone who doesn’t routinely care for the child is transporting him or her.
There are things parents can do to prevent this terrible tragedy from happening.
- Place an important item in the back seat with the child—something you have to have when you get to your destination. This could be your purse, laptop, wallet or name tag. This will force you to have to look and reach into the back seat or open the back door, which will ensure that you see the child.
- Place a stuffed animal in the car seat whenever you take your child out. When you put the child into the car seat, place the stuffed animal in the front seat where you can see it. If the stuffed animal is visible, you know your child is in the back seat.
- Make it a policy for your childcare provider to call you if your child does not arrive.
Other Prevention Techniques for Vehicle-Induced Hyperthermia
- Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, not even for one minute, even if the air conditioner is running or the windows are open.
- Always check the back seat for occupants before leaving your vehicle.
- If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, call 911 immediately.
- Keep vehicle doors locked and make sure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.
- Never allow children to play in a vehicle.
- If a child is missing, first check the pool or hot tub; then check vehicles, including the trunk.
As summer arrives, and with it warm weather, parents need to plan carefully to prevent vehicle-induced hyperthermia. Beat the heat; check the back seat! Let’s keep our little ones safe!