Babies and young children can sleep so peacefully that it may be tempting to leave them alone in a car while you run a quick errand. This, however, must never be done. It can lead to heatstroke, serious injury, and death. Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. It has claimed the lives of more than 600 children since 1998, and that number grows close to 40 more each year.
Susan Katz, DNP, RN, PNP, Clinical Instructor, Infant Apnea Program Coordinator, Stony Brook Children's Hospital and SAFE KIDS, Suffolk Coordinator says there are simple steps to take to prevent these tragedies from happening.
"Young children are particularly vulnerable, as their bodies' heat up three to five times faster than an adult's," says Dr. Katz. "These heatstroke deaths are completely preventable. We can all work together to keep kids safe by following a few simple steps. Three letters can help drivers remember to take proper safety precautions with children when traveling in the car. A, C, T—"
A - Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. "And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not in it so children don't get in on their own to play," explains Dr. Katz.
C—Create reminders. "Put something in the back of your seat of your car, next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. Set reminders on your mobile devices that are triggered to alarm shortly after your expected arrival time at your final destination", suggests Dr. Katz. She says this is especially important if you're not following your normal routine or if you are distracted or overwhelmed.
T— Take action. "If you see a child alone in a car, call 911," urges Dr. Katz. "Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life."
Dr. Katz says many people are shocked to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. "Even on a mild 70 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes getting hotter with each passing minute. Contrary to popular belief, cracking the windows does not help."
Another tip from Dr. Katz, Look before you lock! "Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind," says Dr. Katz. "This will soon become a habit and your small passengers will be safe."
Stony Brook Children's Hospital