This needs to be prefaced by saying you should never leave your children unattended in a vehicle for a variety of reasons, including that the vehicle may be stolen, they may put something in their mouth and choke, or the vehicle could be hit while parked. On top of these reasons, on hot summer days, or in routinely warm climates, the interior temperature of a vehicle can spike by 20 degrees in as little as 20 minutes, even with the windows down. Your car acts as a greenhouse, and the outcome can be fatal.
It is also important to note that within the twenty minutes it takes for the vehicle temperature to spike, your child will likely have succumb to the heat within the first ten minutes or so.
Here is what happens to a human child left in a hot, uncontrolled environment:
- Heat stroke
When exposed to continuous, unrelenting heat, the body’s internal temperature rises. Once it hits 104 degrees, the person will begin to feel sluggish, disoriented and may lose consciousness. Seizures can also occur and the brain loses its ability to regulate the body’s temperature. Severe heat stroke can lead to death.
- Neurological dysfunction
As your body tries to cool itself in an unrelenting environment, like a hot vehicle, your heart rate soars and you begin vomiting. Children do not regulate body temperature as well as adults do and depending on their age may be unable to (A) get out of their safety restraints (B) escape the vehicle or (C) remove clothing to help cool off. Once dehydration sets in, a child will begin gasping for breath and experience cardiac abnormalities.
- Organ failure
Vital organs begin shutting down and become damaged in prolonged exposure to a hot environment. The child will go into shock and heart abnormalities will affect the blood supply to vital organs, causing them to shut down and fail.
Around the 20 minute mark of being inside a vehicle on a hot day, if a child is still conscious they will be scared and panicked about not being able to escape. Their brains will not be functioning properly and they will be very afraid. Most children will lose consciousness by the 20 minute mark, and may be comatose by this point, as their bodily functions systematically become compromised.
Professionals report that children are left in vehicles for a number of reasons. This may include the parent or caregiver forgetting they are there – which generally happens if the child falls asleep on the ride. Children are also often left in vehicles when the parent or caregiver only intends to run into a store for five minutes or less. Most retail excursions, even brief ones, take at least fifteen minutes to complete when you consider time at checkouts and in line ups. In that time your child may have already succumbed to severe, lasting and often irreversible damage to their organs and brain. Is what you are running into the store for, really that important?
No matter how brief you intend to be, take you child(ren) inside with you.