Hot car dangers for children, pets spike as weather warms up

Officials say tragedies can be avoided by taking extra caution

Preventing hot car tragedies this summer
Preventing hot car tragedies this summer

ROANOKE, Va. – Whether the sun’s shining or just peeking through the clouds, as the temperatures rise, so does the risk of car-related deaths in children.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in both 2018 and 2019, a record 53 kids died from vehicular heatstroke. In 2020, due to the pandemic, that number dropped to 24. So far in 2021, one child has died.

Jill Lucas Drakeford, Carilion Children’s Safe Kids coordinator said those numbers don’t include close-calls.

“What we don’t have the statistics on are the near misses. So every single time somebody does call or a parent finally does remember, those things don’t get reported. So we really don’t know. It’s way more than just the numbers that we see nationally,” said Lucas Drakeford.

[DMV urges caregivers to never leave children unattended in a car no matter the temperature]

Cars heat up 20 degrees every 10 minutes, and children bodies can’t cool themselves like adults.

“At about 104 degrees of internal body temperature, their organs start to shut down. At 107 degrees of internal body temperature, that’s where we can see the severe injuries and death.”

Remember to “A.C.T.”

  • Avoid leaving a child in a car under any circumstance
  • Create reminders
  • Take action

Under Virginia law, people acting in good faith to rescue a child from a hot car won’t be prosecuted.

“If anybody ever sees a child in a vehicle that’s unattended, call 911 and do what you need to do to get that child out of the car,” said Lucas Drakeford.

Your pets can also overheat if left in a car.

Dr. Matthew Sisk from Brambleton Veterinary Hospital said that the hotter it gets, the harder it is for dogs to cool themselves down. Breeds with short muzzles are at a higher risk of heatstroke.

Parking in the shade and cracking windows are still dangerous.

“The organs that get damaged are unforgiving organs, especially the brain,” said Sisk.

To prevent a tragedy, put your cell phone, wallet or purse in the backseat next to your child that way you won’t forget to look. You can even set reminders on your cell phone. You can also put a stuffed animal in the front passenger seat as a visual reminder.

“It’s really really sad and it’s really really preventable.”

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