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The Dangers of Leaving Children in Cars



With many parts of America facing record heat in 2012, there has been a rise in the number of children dying from being left inside of cars. Nationwide, law enforcement agencies are promoting awareness of the dangers of leaving a child or a pet inside a parked vehicle. The emphasis is on education and informing the public about the potential hazards – and consequences – of exposing a child to scorching temperatures in a confined area.

According to statistics gathered from police reports, which include testimony of parents and other adults, most people are not aware of how quickly an elevated air temperature can affect an infant or toddler. Nearly 90 percent of all cases of death resulting from heat exhaustion inside a passenger vehicle are children under the age of four. A fatality involving a small child overheating in an unattended car occurs about once every eight days in the United States.

Children and Heat Exhaustion

Many parents believe that a child is safe inside a closed vehicle for a short period. Unfortunately for the child, cars are built with an upper row of glass. Radiation from the sun passes directly through the lens and strikes the surface of the interior fabric or plastic. On warm days, cars can quickly rise to temperatures over 140 degrees inside. Even on cooler days in the 60s, the interior of a vehicle can still warm to unsafe levels. Cracking the window does very little to slow this process.

To illustrate why this occurs, a cake baked in a glass dish will require far less cooking time than a cake prepared and baked in a metal pan. This is because the short-wave radiation passes directly through the glass and into the batter. The metal pan conducts heat to the dough without the aid of direct radiation.

A car’s interior heats up much the same way that a glass-baking dish allows short-wave radiation to pass through to the batter. Once inside, the rays are reflected or absorbed. Long-wave radiation cannot move back through the glass efficiently, and the car’s interior heats up rapidly.

Children Are At Greater Risk in the Heat

Young children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion because their bodies systems do not yet exhibit an automatic response to elevated temperatures in the same manner as that seen in an adult or older youth. A child’s internal temperature can rise as much as four times as fast as that of a teenager, according to information from the American Medical Association and other authorities.

Young children are more susceptible to hyperthermia, especially when the immediate atmosphere is stagnant. Instead of absorbing heat energy from the child’s skin, the heat passes in the other direction, into the body. The child’s brain reacts by shutting down some of the body’s systems, much the same way it would if a loss of heat is detected.

Advice For Parents

First and foremost, parents should never leave a child or pet unattended in a parked vehicle. It is a good idea to form a habit of checking the rear seating area every time the car is parked. Toddlers and older children may not be able to get out of the car to escape rising temperatures because of the advanced child-proof rear door locks now installed on most current models.

Some of the fatalities resulting from heat exhaustion are caused by a small child entering an unattended car. This is why parents should always lock the doors when leaving the vehicle and keep the keys far out of reach of younger children.

Pets are also quite susceptible to high temperatures in an enclosed space. Their bodies have different means of cooling than humans. Although dogs have a higher average body temperature than humans, their brains react violently to sudden temperature increases. Their judgment is slowed, and it becomes tough for them to bark for help.

Both dogs and cats have a lower recovery rate from heat exhaustion than do humans. If a child or pet is observed trapped inside a closed vehicle, calling 911 immediately is the correct choice of action.