38 children die inside hot cars on average each year in the United States. Already this year, 18 children have died this way. All week, the “feels like” temperatures have been around 100 degrees in the Lowcountry so this reminder to parents is crucial during these hot summer months.
“Leaving your child in the back of a car and overheating can happen to anyone, including well-meaning parents” says Dr. Elizabeth Mack. She’s works in the pediatric critical care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina so she is one of the first who sees children when they come to the hospital overheated.
Dr. Mack says this simple action could save your child’s life. “Put something back there to be your cue–your purse, your cell phone or something like that back beside the car seat so that you can just easily reach back and grab it and then remember, oh my child is there. That way there is a cue to remind you to get your child out of the backseat.”
It takes only 10 minutes for the inside of a car to rise up to 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperatures. On the hottest days, the inside of a car can reach temperatures from 120 to 145 degrees.
“Certainly in weather like we are having right now where it’s 100 degrees, it can happen easily,” says Dr. Mack. “The car can heat up to 120, 150 degrees. Children’s organs start to melt and they can die around 107.”
Ansley Birkner is the Pediatric Injury Prevention Coordinator at MUSC. Her Department focuses strongly on reminding parents of the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. These are the steps she says you should take if your child does get locked inside.
“If locked in the car and you don’t have any other keys available, Call 911,” Birkner says. “We want to get emergency services here as soon as possible. Another thing you can do is break the window that’s furthest away from the child.”
If you see someone else’s car with a child locked inside, South Carolina has laws to protect you if you take action. First, check the area to make sure the parent didn’t just step away quickly, then call 911.
“If there is nobody around and you feel that the child is in imminent danger, South Carolina does have a good Samaritan law that allows us to force entry to remove the child from the vehicle,” Birkner points out.
Birkner says there is no excuse to leave your child inside an unattended car. “Even if it’s for a second, even if you crack the window, even if you park in the shade.”
Dr. Mack points out that the same applies even when it is cool outside. “Even in weather as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit, children can overheat and die. So it’s very important to remember it’s not just these miserably hot days, but really any day when this can happen.”
This year, members of congress introduced legislation called the Hot Car Act of 2017. If it passes, this bill would require car manufacturers to install technology that would notify the driver if a child is still sitting in the backseat of the car. Some cars on the market already have this technology.