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Campaign warns of deadly consequences of leaving kids in hot cars

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jun 22, 2024

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As summer temperatures climb, health and safety officials are warning parents and drivers to be careful not to leave children unattended in hot cars, which potentially can be deadly.

In just 10 minutes, the inside of a car can heat up by 20 degrees. And if a child is inside unattended, things could turn deadly very quickly.

In fact, every year, nearly 40 children across the United States die from being left in a hot vehicle. Between 1998 and 2022, 13 Utah children died and several others suffered heat stroke and other close-call injuries.

Summer is officially here and health officials at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital are urging drivers to never leave a child alone in a vehicle — even for just a minute.

During a press conference Friday, hospital officials talked about the importance of the national “Stop. Look. Lock” campaign, launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We want everyone to stop, look, lock before leaving the vehicle to prevent accidental injury or death to a child,” said Michelle Jamison, community health children’s health program manager at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “Drivers must be vigilant and use visual aids and tools this summer to prevent tragedy.”

The hospital is offering free “Forget Me Not” window clings to help remind drivers that a child is in the car. A vehicle escape tool also will be offered at select child safety events during the season while supplies last.

Tragedies from children left in cars can happen to anyone, officials said, adding that drivers can forget a child is in the car, especially during summer break and vacations. A child’s body temperature can increase three to five times faster than an adult’s, and even cracking the window has very little effect on the inside temperature of a car.

“Kids get hotter a lot faster than grown-ups do,” said Wyatt Argyle, trauma program manager at the Miller Family Campus. “Heatstroke begins when a child’s core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees. That’s why it’s so important to never leave a child in a car, even if we think we’ll only be a minute or two.”

According to the National Traffic Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a child can die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees. In 2023, 29 children died of heatstroke in vehicles, and in both 2018 and 2019, a record number of car deaths — 53 children — were reported, the most in 25 years.

Public health and safety experts say that to protect children, they should never be left unattended in a car for any amount of time. Rolling down the window or parking in the shade will not change the inside of the vehicle.

Also, drivers should make a habit of checking their entire vehicle before exiting. A personal item such as a briefcase or purse can be placed in the back seat as a reminder, or a stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. Experts also suggest locking a car when it isn’t in use, so children don’t have access to get inside and play.

“If a child ever goes missing, check all vehicles and nearby water first,” said Sgt. Kristopher Cope with the Utah Highway Patrol. “If you see a child in a car, call 911. If they’re in heat distress, you should remove them from the vehicle and cool them down as quickly as possible.”

Signs of heatstroke in children include weakness, dizziness, severe headache, confusion, nausea, rapid heartbeat and breathing, loss of consciousness, seizure and no sweating.

“Forget Me Not” and “Spot the Tot” window clings are available from Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital by request or by emailing PCHHOTDL@imail.org with your name, address and desired amount — up to 10 per person.

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