This year the National Weather Service is partnering with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to heighten child vehicular heatstroke awareness and prevention.  Heatstroke in vehicles is the leading cause of all non-crash-related fatalities involving children 14 and younger (61%).  Unfortunately, each year an average of 38 children die as a result of being left enclosed in parked vehicles.

Through May 2013 there has already been one reported child death due to heatstroke suffered in an unattended vehicle.  However, the warmest days of summer are still ahead.  There were at least 32 child deaths in 2012 due to heatstroke (hyperthermia) after being left in or having gained access to open vehicles.  Sadly, there have been at least 560 documented cases of heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles since 1998.  The following circumstances were the primary reasons for child heatstroke deaths:

  • 52% - child "forgotten" by caregiver
  • 29% - child playing in an unattended vehicle
  • 18% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult

(Information courtesy of ggweather.com)

Beat the heat, Check the Back Seat

VEHICLE HEATING DYNAMICS

The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation (yellow in figure below) and are warmed little.  However, this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes.  For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees F.

These objects (e.g., dashboard, steering wheel, childseat) heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off longwave radiation (red) which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.  Even on days with temperatures in the 70s, temperatures inside an enclosed vehicle can quickly rise to life-threatening levels.  Research shows that "cracking" the windows has little effect in reducing heat trapped inside the vehicle.
 

On an 80 degree day it only takes 10 minutes for the
temperature inside an enclosed vehicle to rise
to nearly 100 degrees.

The temperature in an enclosed vehicle can approach
110 degrees in 20 minutes even when the outside
temperature is only 80 degrees.

CHILD SAFETY TIPS

Children are much more sensitive to rising temperatures than adults, so pay close attention to these safety tips during all 4 seasons.

  • NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE, EVEN WITH THE WINDOWS DOWN.  NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE!
  • IF YOU SEE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A HOT VEHICLE CALL 9-1-1.
  • Always make sure all child passengers have left the car when you reach your destination. Don't overlook sleeping infants or pets.
  • Check to make sure seating surfaces and equipment (child safety seat and safety belt buckles) aren't too hot when securing your child in a safety restraint system in a car that has been parked in the heat.
  • Always lock car doors and trunks -- even at home -- and keep keys out of children's reach.  If a child is missing, always check the car, including the trunk.
  • Teach children not to play in, on, or around cars.
  • As a visual reminder, keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver.  Or, place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
  • Make "look before you leave" a routine whenever you get out of the car.
  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.
  • Share the slogans "Beat the Heat, Check the Back Seat", or "Where's Baby?  Look Before you Lock" with friends and family.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has outreach and media toolkits available at:

www.safercar.gov/parents/heat-involved.htm

To download the National Weather Service logos for "Beat the Heat, Check the Back Seat", visit:

www.nws.noaa.gov/om/heat/index.shtml

Where's baby?  Look before you lock.


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