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Dangers of Leaving Babies in Hot Cars and How to Prevent It

It seems like we hear about it on the news every single day almost. A child left in hot car. A child dies from being left in a hot car. Every year, about 37 babies and toddlers die when they are left in hot cars by accident.

Just Monday, a CPS worker in Texas accidentally locked a child inside a hot car. It happens all the time, more than you would think, and while yes, sadly, some do it on purpose, others are a complete accident.

Temperatures in cars in the summer can quickly rise to 120 degrees or more, which can very quickly lead to heat stroke and death in a child. And children have no control, no way to get out of the seat or the car - they are literally trapped.

A video was posted a year or two ago, that showed just how fast things can go from OK to heartbreak when a child is left in a hot car. Beware, the video is not for the faint of heart, and can be triggering for some, especially those who have lost a child or are particularly sensitive to videos depicting child loss.

As sad as that video was and always is to watch, it’s important to see what can happen in the worst case scenario. But for those who want to know specifics, here you go.

So, what happens?

15 Temperature Rises

In under 10 minutes, the temperature in a car can jump up by 8 C (Celsius) if it’s parked in the sun, and yes, this means even if the A/C is left on when you get out of the car. On a day that’s around 72 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature can rise 30 or more degrees in an hour and the same applies when it’s 90 degrees. The car is a greenhouse, it holds heat and does not let it go.

There’s NO safe amount of time to leave a child alone in a car. Ever. There’s no safe amount of time to leave anyone in a car, or an animal for that matter, but children are more susceptible to heat related illnesses and injury than adults, because their bodies make more heat in relation to their size, and they don’t cool off by sweating as well as adults do.

14 Hyperthermia

Hyperthermia is, to put it plainly, a heat related injury. The most serious heat related injury is heat stroke, but more on that later. Hyperthermia happens when the body is not able to regulate it’s internal temperature anymore, and it’s a medical emergency.

The heart rate may be elevated, and the skin will likely turn red. If the child is still sweating, then they’ll be coated in it, but sweating may have stopped, and if it did, they’ll be dry. Confusion and other mental changes can happen, and seizures can occur if the brain is damaged, and that happens easily in high temperatures.

Heat exhaustion, the milder form of hyperthermia, gives the person nausea, vomiting, headaches, cramps, and profuse sweating. Heat rash can also occur. It takes a very short amount of time to reach the status of hyperthermia, and by short amount of time, I mean mere minutes.

13 Heat Stroke

Even a small amount of time being trapped in a car can expose a child to heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat injury, and is considered to be a medical emergency. It’s also called sunstroke, and if you think someone has it, you’re supposed to call 911 immediately and give first aid until paramedics arrive - it’s that serious.

Heat stroke can kill or cause serious damage to the brain and other internal organs. It’s often a progression from other, more mild heat related injuries, such as heat cramps, fainting, and heat exhaustion.

The medical definition of heat stroke is a core body temperature of more than 105 degrees F, with complications to the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures. Other symptoms include nausea, seizures, confusion, disorientation, and loss of consciousness or slipping into a coma.

12 Dehydration

Once the child has gone into a state of hyperthermia, they will go into a state of dehydration that goes hand in hand with the hyperthermia. Dehydration in children can cause them to have a dry or sticky mouth, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, a sunken in soft spot on their heads, lack of urination, dry skin, lethargy or irritability, and fatigue or dizziness.

Children in hot cars can go from mildly dehydrated to very dehydrated in minutes, and it can get very serious. Dehydration in children can lead to cerebral edema, which is swelling on the brain. This happens when the child is given fluids finally, and the body pulls too much water back into the cells. This can also cause seizures, due to the electrolytes in the body being out of balance.

It can cause low blood volume shock, kidney failure, coma, and even death. Let that sink in. Severe dehydration alone can be fatal, so can heat stroke. So can a lot of other things on this list.

11 Cardiac Arrhythmia

Heat stroke can lead to cardiac arrhythmia, and it can be fatal. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate of your heartbeat. It means the heart is beating either too fast, too slow, or with an irregular pattern. Too fast is called tachycardia, too slow it bradycardia. Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia, and it’s when there is an irregular and fast heart beat.

Symptoms of Arrhythmia include fast or slow heart rates, the heart skipping beats, lightheadedness or dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and sweating. When your body overheats, you can end up with a rapid pulse, which is tachycardia, as stated above.

These conditions are dangerous enough for an adult, but a child is not as capable of handling the heart problems as an adult would be. It can very quickly be fatal to them, and where an adult could escape the heat, children have no escape, they are trapped.

10 Organ Failure

As stated many, many times, and I will continue to state because of how important it is, the effect of excessive heat accumulating in the body is life threatening. It’s not just child neglect, but it could lead to death.

Not only does it damage body fluid electrolyte balances and blood levels, but it can shut down kidney, liver, and hematologic function all together. It can take weeks to come back from an organ shut down like this.

Multiple organ injury results from complex interplay between the cytotoxic effect of the heat and the inflammatory and coagulation responses of the host. Basically, the heat and the child’s body clash and do not work well together. Once heat stroke has set in, it has an inherently high mortality due to multi-organ dysfunction, and those who need admission to an intensive care unit have a much higher chance of mortality.

However, we’ve seen new technology coming out to prevent the tragedy of leaving children in hot cars. While many people believe that this technology shouldn’t be necessary, I personally am of the opinion, that if it saves ONE child it’s worth it.

There are other tips and tricks to help someone remember to check the back seat as well, which can come in handy to a particularly forgetful person. Remember, those people who left their kids in the car, all said that they would never have let it happen to them, too.

Next: Methods of Prevention.

9 Rear Seat Reminder System

This is coming out in the 2017 GMC Acadia SUV, and could make an appearance in other vehicles in the coming years and months. The Rear Seat Reminder System is designed to detect when a motorist puts something in the back seat, and issues an alert when they go to leave the vehicle. Child safety experts hail this concept as a good first step, but lament the fact that several even more sophisticated systems promised over the years have failed to materialize.

Kate Carr, the president and CEO of the advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide, says, “The problem is a serious one.” There’s been 670 known preventable deaths of children locked in overheated vehicles since 1998, a figure that’s jumped as high as 49 in a single year.

That is far too much, and according to research, 54% of those fatalities occurred when a parent or caregiver forgot there was a child inside the vehicle, something that Carr says is surprisingly common.

8 On-Board Video Monitor

While we’ve been using cameras to keep a recording of the road ahead and in reverse, we haven’t utilized this functionality to help with keeping an eye on the back seat until recently.

Now, the Garmin babyCam lets drivers easily keep an eye on the back seat, without needing to adjust mirrors or turn around. In-vehicle video monitors aren’t new, but Garmin’s is the first to work in conjunction with an existing, compatible GPS navigator display.

Drivers can switch between navigation and babyCam views with a press of the GPS touch screen, or, in some models, via voice command. It also automatically activates when the GPS is switched to babyCam view, and turns off to conserve power in map view.

Oh, and this is the part that will help with leaving a child behind in the car, the GPS will display an alert or reminder to check the backseat before exiting the vehicle. It’s priced at $199.99, but that’s well worth it if you have a need for it.

7 Smart Car Seat

The car seats I researched are made by Evenflo. And while many are complaining we shouldn’t NEED that, these can be a lifesaver, literally. You plug the one piece wireless receiver into the On-Board Diagnostic Port (OBD), and it connects with the chest clip of the seat by using radio frequency. Within 30 seconds of driving at more than 5 MPH, the SensorSafe system will activate.

Once the car has stopped and the vehicle has turned off, a series of gentle tones will alert the driver that the baby is still in the car. This can make all the difference, especially if someone doesn’t usually have the child in the car with them, such as a grandparent or a parent with partial custody.

The other amazing use for this seat? When the seat unbuckles and the car is moving at a rate of speed over 5 MPH, it alerts you that the child has unbuckled the car seat. This can be amazingly helpful and can save lives. You’ll know immediately to pull over and fix their seat, and believe me, with a crafty toddler, this can happen in an instant. Knowing that the child is unbuckled can save their life in case of an accident.

6 Buddy Tag

We accessorize our kids all the time, so why not accessorize them with something that can save their life? This bracelet goes on the child’s wrist, and then you activate the app. It alerts you when your child is out of range, whether by you accident leave the range of the child, or your child wanders away from you. You set the distance for when to trigger the alarm.

This can come in handy for a plethora of reasons, and not just leaving a child in a car seat. If someone takes a child from a buggy in the store while you’re looking on a shelf, or your child wanders off in an amusement park, the alarm goes off, and you’re alerted to the absence of your child. And yes, it happens more often than one thinks. Kids wander off in crowded places like amusement parks or the county fair, and can easily be lost in seconds. This could help with that.

With all of these prevention methods, including ones that involve no technology, such as just putting your purse or another important item in the back seat so you’ll remember to grab it, the legal consequences for leaving a child in a car can be quite severe. Although, the non legal consequence, the worst one of all, is more severe than any legal consequence can be.

Next: What are the Consequences?

5 Death of the Child

Easily the worst consequence of leaving a child in a hot car, and the thing that this article has been trying to shove down the throat of every reader looking at this article. This can result in the death of a child. Some people say that every 9 days, a child is left alone in a hot car and dies.

So far this year alone, at least 16 children have reportedly died from heat stroke from being left in hot cars by their caregivers. That’s more than double the number who perished this time last year.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine the thought of having a funeral for my child for something that was 100% preventable and 100% my fault, by all technicalities. This is the worst consequence I can imagine. I love my babies, and any little bit that can help keep them just a fraction safer is worth it to me.

4 Reckless Conduct

By definition, a reckless conduct charge is given in cases where there was a rash or careless act that is a gross deviation of the standard of care a reasonable person would exhibit under similar circumstances. Someone who behaves recklessly, therefore, will have knowingly taken a risk that will have put others in danger.

To be found guilty of reckless conduct, the courts use an objective standard, meaning that it does not matter what the person was thinking at the time. If the person’s actions deviate far enough from how a reasonable person would act, they will be found guilty and/or liable for reckless conduct.

Depending on how badly the victim, who in the case of a child being left in a hot car is the child, the guilty party may face fines or jail time. If the reckless conduct is charged as a misdemeanor, the guilty party will not have to spend more than a year in jail, but if there is found to be a gross disregard for human life, it can be charged as a felony, and the guilty party can spend years in jail and pay thousands in fines.

3 Second Degree Child Cruelty

When a person commits negligence on a child under the age of 18 in a way that causes the child excessive physical or mental pain, the person is guilty of child cruelty. Criminal negligence implies not only a knowledge of probable consequences which can result from the action, but also willful or wanton disregard of the probable effects of the action upon others who can be affected.

This would more than likely apply more to someone who leaves a child in the car, knowing they’re doing it, saying they’re just running into a store for a minute. It’s someone who commits this act knowingly, and knows that it could harm the child, but shows severe disregard towards their safety or life.

The potential consequence of a 2nd degree child cruelty charge is a year to 10 years in prison, not counting any fines or fees that the guilty party will need to pay.

2 Child Abuse or Endangerment

An adult caring for a child has a legal responsibility to ensure that the child is free from unreasonably dangerous situations. When the adult caregiver fails to adequately protect the child, states punish this as a crime known as child endangerment. Some states punish child endangerment as a crime separate from child abuse, but others include child endangerment as a type of child abuse, and will charge the person accordingly.

People charged with child abuse face a wide range of penalties and sentencing possibilities, depending on several factors, including what state the abuse took place, the age of the child, whether or not the offense included sexual abuse, whether the child was physically or mentally injured, and the criminal history of the offender.

Child abuse can be charged as a felony or a less serious offense, depending on the circumstances. More serious cases of child abuse are charged as felonies, and can carry a lifetime sentence, and less serious cases are considered gross misdemeanor with possibly no jail time served. Punishment is more severe if there is a previous record of criminal child abuse activity, and greatly reduced if there is no record.

1 CPS Involvement

In any case where a child is considered to have been put in danger, intentionally or otherwise, CPS is often called. And you do not want CPS to be involved. It’s their job to dig up the dirt. They are legally obligated to investigate every single report that is made. They make the determination as to if they should or can follow up further on any report on a case by case basis. CPS can see the child without parental permission, as it’s their job to find out about the safety of the child. Workers often attempt to speak to the child before they speak to the parent.

Sometimes, other children who were not left in the car are removed from the home, either temporarily or otherwise. The parents have to jump through a lot of hoops to get cases dismissed and get their children back, whether the child was left in the car accidentally or otherwise. They’re not doing it to be cruel, but acting in the best interest of the child. Their goal is to ensure the child’s safety.

The consequences all around can be devastating, but the laws are changing and becoming more harsh for a reason. This accident is costing children, innocents who cannot escape their fate, their lives. More needs to be done, in both prevention and consequences, to lessen the number of victims per year.

In about 10 years, there should be no reason a child is accidentally forgotten in a vehicle. Hopefully, cars will become equipped with the technology to sense when a child is in the rear seat and the technology becomes standard in vehicles.

Remember, even if you live in a small, safe town, even if it seems nice and not too hot outside, even 15 minutes in a car that is heating up can cost a child their life. It’s never worth leaving a child alone.

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