By Jessica Lanerie, M.D.
It’s July, and “feels-like” temperatures in Houston have already exceeded 100 degrees with humidity factored in. During the summer, it’s incredibly important to stay vigilant when it comes to leaving children in the car. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 52 accidental heat-related car deaths in the United States in 2019. Too many of them were in Texas.
Three common situations typically lead up to hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and death for children: Parents or other caregivers unintentionally leave a child behind in the car; children gain access to a car on their own and become trapped; and parents or caregivers purposely leave a child locked inside, which is illegal in Texas.
Yes, It Could Happen to You
The danger to children, and pets, is heatstroke. A car in Houston parked in an open parking lot on a 95-degree day can reach temperatures exceeding 140 degrees in less than an hour. Not only does the temperature inside the car climb exponentially in this first hour or so, but also, in most cases, the child left in the car is restrained in a car seat, adding to the heat factor they’re experiencing. Heat stroke in a child can begin when his or her internal temperature reaches 103 degrees – an easy gap to bridge when the inside of a car can reach 147 degrees in as little as 45 minutes.
Avoiding a Horrific Situation
When a child is unwittingly left in a parent’s car, it’s most often because of a change in routine. For example, the parent who doesn’t normally drive the child to daycare is suddenly charged with dropping the child off. In many instances, once the parent backs out of the driveway, he or she goes into auto-pilot, thinking about the day ahead and completely forgetting there’s a sleeping child in the back seat. They go into work and sometimes don’t even realize what’s happened until the end of the day when they go back out to the car. You can help avoid this by:
• Keeping a stuffed animal in the baby's car seat or booster. When the baby goes in, remove the stuffed animal and put it next to you on the front seat.
• Putting your cellphone, a purse, or your left shoe in the backseat by the baby.
• Using the free smartphone reminder apps that are available.
• Teaching your kids not to crawl into the car by themselves. Lock your vehicle, including doors and trunk, when you’re not using it. Keep keys and remote keys away from children.
• Never leaving a sleeping baby in a car.
• Never believing this can’t ever happen to you.
If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. One call could save a life.
Dr. Jessica Lanerie is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Sienna Plantation Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Medicine in 2013, Dr. Lanerie completed a residency in Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in 2016. Her clinical interests include weight management, asthma, and eczema.