Dangerously hot temperatures inside a car increase more, faster than people may realize

Even before the summer sun tips thermometers into triple digits, there are several areas of safety people need to consider when it comes to keeping children safe, particularly in the car.


“People need to realize that a child, because of their body surface area, will heat up three to five times faster than an adult, and their organs will start to shut down if their temperature reaches 104 degrees,” said Dr. Kerri Smith, pediatric hospitalist for Intermountain Health St. George Regional Hospital. “Within 10 minutes, a car can heat up by 20 degrees. People need to realize how quickly things can happen, especially with young kids.”

The kind of danger Dr. Smith is referring to — leaving a child in a hot car even for a few minutes — can result in serious danger or even death. And even though national statistics show these cases are rare, roughly 35-38 cases per year Dr. Smith said, they do happen and it’s always tragic.

“I have more personal experience with it because I actually had this happen to one of my patients,” Dr. Smith said. “The child was 12 months old, and she wasn’t the parent who usually took the child to daycare, so it was out of her routine. She didn’t remember the baby was in the backseat and the baby died. It was tragic.”

In order to avoid this kind of deadly memory lapse, Dr. Smith suggests keeping the diaper bag in the passenger seat so it will serve as a visual reminder that there is a child in the back, particularly when the person driving is not used to transporting the child. Another suggestion is to put something in the backseat near the child that you are likely to miss the moment you leave the car — like a purse or a cell phone.

“Anything that will remind the driver to look in the back before leaving the car,” Dr. Smith said.

In addition to these precautions, Dr. Smith said it is imperative to teach children about car safety, such as never playing in a vehicle, even when it is parked.

“Keep vehicles locked so children do not have access to them,” Dr. Smith said. “And if you have children, check all the doors, and even the trunk, before you leave. Kids can find their way into those hiding places.”

When the heat reaches an apex in Southern Utah, just regular driving in the car can prove to be a risk for a child overheating. When possible, Dr. Smith suggests starting the car ahead of time and have the air conditioning running to cool things before you leave.

While the number of deaths resulting from a child being left in a hot car are relatively low nationwide, there are many cases of children suffering from heat stroke and other heat-related injuries in hot cars, so the more precautions taken, the better.

“In general, keeping kids safe from heat stroke and overheating is similar to adults,” Dr. Smith said. “Remove clothing and let the heat dissipate if they are showing signs of being too hot.”

Drinking cool liquids and offering a cold compress under the person’s arms can also be helpful.

“It’s just important to never even consider leaving a child or a pet in the car when you’re going into run an errand,” Dr. Smith said. “Even if you are leaving the car running and the air conditioning on. What if the air stops for some reason? You just never know what will happen. It is worth taking them in with you.”

This Live Well column represents collaboration between healthcare professionals from the medical staffs of our not-for-profit Intermountain Health hospitals and The Spectrum & Daily News.

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