By Carrie Brazeal, TSB Contributor
It’s nearly June and that means summertime in north central Texas. Thank goodness we haven’t had very hot weather yet but it’s just a matter of time. Hopefully we won’t have as many hot days as we had last year. Even as a native Texan who should be used to hot, humid weather, I don’t enjoy summer when the temperature gets close to or over 100 degrees.
One of the many problems with hot weather deals with the danger of children dying from being left unattended in vehicles. Even though heat-related deaths for children went down last year, this still happens too often. In fact, we’ve already had one death in the metroplex this year. Safe Kids USA has launched a campaign to address this serious problem: ACT, which stands for Avoid heat stroke-related injury, Create reminders and Take action. The campaign is designed to link together these simple heat stroke prevention steps.
One of the problems is that we don’t realize how quickly the temperature in parked vehicles rises. In just 10 minutes, the temperature inside a vehicle can increase by almost 20 degrees. So if it’s already 100 degrees outside, it may be at least 120 degrees in a parked vehicle.
Another problem is that achild’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s, making children more vulnerable to hyperthermia, also called heat stroke. Heat stroke can occur at body temperatures above 104 degrees. Even mild outside temperatures can pose a threat, but with Texas temperatures soon climbing into the upper 90s and above, the danger becomes even greater.
Unfortunately, Texas leads the nation with the highest number of vehicle hyperthermia deaths. During the years of 1998-2011, Texas had 80 deaths during that time.
In more than half of the cases during that time, the death was due to the child being “forgotten” by the caregiver. Such deaths are preventable when parents take precautions to ensure that children are not left alone in vehicles and cannot gain access to unlocked vehicles. According to Safe Kids, one-third of the heat-related deaths in 2000 were due to children becoming trapped in vehicles they had crawled into.
For parents with iPhones, check out the free application called “Baby Reminder.” This allows you to set the days and time intervals in which you usually drive with your children and provides an alert to be sent to you reminding you not to forget the baby in the car. It can be downloaded via iTunes (http://itunes.apple.com/il/app/baby-reminder/id468332744?mt=8. There are several other free apps so check them out to see which one works best for you.
Here are some other safety suggestions from National Safe Kids:
*Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death. Never leave your child alone in the car, even for a minute. Consistently lock unattended vehicle doors and trunks, especially when parked at your home. Some children like playing in vehicles and may not be able to or remember how to exit when temperatures rise.
*Create reminders and habits that give you and your child’s caregiver a safety net. Establish a peace of mind plan. When you drop off your child, make a habit of calling or texting all other caregivers so all of you know where your child is at all times. Place your purse, gym bag, cell phone or another item in the back seat that will be needed at your next stop. Set the alarm on your cell phone or computer calendar as a reminder to drop your child off at childcare.
*Take action if you see an unattended child in a vehicle. Dial 911 immediately and follow the instructions that emergency personnel provide. They are trained to determine if a child is in danger.
Although many parents may think that this will never happen to them, it’s a tragedy that can and has happened to many families. Talk with your babysitters, grandparents, and others who care for your children to make them aware of heat stroke deaths. Put a plan into place that you follow every day. Your child is depending on you.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.548.4233 or metro 082.424.1460, Ext. 4233.