What Happens If You Leave a Child (or Pet) In a Hot Car

What Happens If You Leave a Child (or Pet) In a Hot Car

On average, 37 children die every year from being left in a hot car. As the official start of summer kicks off, your concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, Florida, want to remind everyone again of the dangers of leaving children and pets in a hot car.

The Washington Post recently reported on a study published in the online journal Temperature. Researchers looked at how quickly different types of cars heat up on a hot day.

“The findings were sobering,” the paper reported. “Within one hour, the temperature inside a car on a day that reached 95+ degrees Fahrenheit hit an average of 116 degrees.” Even cars parked in the shade reached an average of 100 degrees in that same time period.

The Fatal Effects

The onset of heatstroke varies from individual, however — those in ill health, the elderly, children and pets with fur, are likely to experience effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses that young children’s bodies heat up to three-to-five times faster than an adults.

For instance, in April 2017, a one-year-old boy died after being left in a pickup truck, although the outdoor temperature was just 68 degrees. Even though people shrug off warnings about forgetting children in hot cars, the National Safety Council (NSC) reports that it can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age, profession and socioeconomic class.

Very few of the deaths are intentional, yet observers often blame the parents or caretakers for being careless or negligent. “In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, parents stress. Often, tragedies occur when schedules and routines are broken,” the NSC said. 

For example— if the mother usually takes the child to school, but the father fills in from time-to-time, it’s not part of his regular routine and may forget. Or if the mother is rushing to prepare for a child’s birthday party, she may forget to remove the child from the car in the scramble to remember other tasks.

“It’s reasonable to call this an epidemic,” memory expert David Diamond, a scientist at the Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, told CNN. “On average, it happens once a week from spring to early fall.” He further explained the reasons behind the phenomenon to NBC News. It’s a result of the way our brains function.

The Reasoning

“We all experience when we have a plan to do something in the future and then we forget to complete that plan,” he said. He explained that the part of the brain that operates on autopilot—the part that stores the ability to swim or type or ride a bicycle—is the basal ganglia, which works independently of the hippocampus and the frontal cortex, the parts that pay attention to present events, plan future activities and events, and develop strategies.

“This is where the systems compete against each other,” he told NBC. If you drive home a certain way, the basal ganglia want to take over, suppressing information of having a child in the car that normally is not there.

“In the case of you driving home, your basal ganglia wants to get you from Point A to Point B to the point it can suppress your hippocampus. [People] say you can forget to stop at the store, but you don’t forget your child is in the car. I get that feeling completely. I get that argument, but you can’t argue with brain function.”

How To Prevent This

So what can you do to make sure this terrible tragedy never happens to you? The NSC offers the following tips:

  • Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute
  • Keep your car locked when you are not in it so children do not gain access
  • Create reminders by putting something in the back seat next to your child, such as a cellphone
  • Set a calendar reminder on your electronic device to make sure you dropped your child off at daycare
  • Develop an alert plan if your child is late or absent
  • If you see a child alone in a car, call 911

If you have questions about this or any other medical issue, be sure to contact us. That’s why we’re here.

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