The DOT Daily: NHTSA and Safe Kids Take Proactive Steps in Preventing Child Heatstroke in Hot Vehicles

31 children died last year as a result of heatstroke; 11 so far in 2015

OXON HILL, MD – As part of National Heatstroke Prevention Day, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) joined Safe Kids Worldwide in urging parents and caregivers to take proper precautions to prevent child heatstroke tragedies in hot vehicles. NHTSA also unveiled a new technical report to help manufacturers develop effective technology innovations to prevent the dozens of child heatstroke deaths that occur each year.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind and Safe Kids Worldwide President and CEO Kate Carr delivered remarks during the Safe Kids Worldwide Childhood Injury Prevention Convention, which brought together injury prevention professionals from across the United States and around the world to discuss, share and learn ways of reducing all types of injuries to children.

“Everything we know about these needless tragedies indicates heatstroke in hot cars can happen to any parent from any walk of  life,” said U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The Department of Transportation is providing research and technical support to bring technology to bear on this tragic problem. But we all have a role to play, by taking practical, effective measures to protect our own kids and by calling 911 if we see a child in distress.”

Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle can lead to heatstroke and can kill in minutes. Data from the San Jose State University Department of Geosciences [external link] show at least 31 children in the United States lost their lives in 2014 after being left unattended in or around vehicles, and an unknown number of others were moderately to severely injured. So far this year, there have been at least 11 child deaths from heatstroke.

“Every heatstroke death caused by leaving a child unattended in a hot car is 100 percent preventable,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “The message is simple: never leave a child alone in a vehicle and always check the back seat before walking away. As a bystander, if you see a kid alone in a hot car, take action. Working together, we can prevent these tragedies.”

“We don’t want to see this tragedy happen to any family,” Karr said. “We’re asking everyone to help protect kids from this very preventable tragedy by spreading the word on National Heatstroke Prevention Day. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver or a concerned bystander, you can help save lives.”

Vehicles heat up quickly, and not even a window rolled down two inches can prevent that. The temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes if the outside temperature is in the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with temperatures in the 60s or 70s, heatstroke poses a serious risk. A child will die of heatstroke once their body temperature reaches 107 degrees.

Reggie McKinnon, who lost his daughter, Payton, to heatstroke on  March 8, 2010 in Cape Coral, FL said at the press event, “I made a promise to my sweet Payton that I would do everything I could to prevent this horror from ever happening to another child. And that’s what we’re doing today by coming together to bring awareness and education to such an important issue. All of us working together and pledging to never stop talking, teaching and caring.”

Since 2012, NHTSA has produced annual “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” awareness campaigns during warm-weather months to alert parents and others to the dangers of heatstroke. The campaign uses radio and online advertising and provides awareness materials to safety stakeholders to spread the word.

In addition, NHTSA’s Office of Vehicle Safety Research is working to help develop technology solutions that could prevent heatstroke deaths. The agency released a technical report today that is intended as a roadmap to help manufacturers design electronic reminder systems. While a number of such systems are now available, either as features on child safety seats or as add-on products, their capabilities and easeofuse vary. NHTSA’s technical report includes descriptions of system features and offers detailed test procedures product developers can use to evaluate their products.

While NHTSA encourages innovative solutions to this one hundred percent preventable tragedy, it also encourages families to maintain vigilant parenting/caregiving practices and not rely on any single safeguard against leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.

DOT and NHTSA urge parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke incidents from occurring:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away;
  • Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn’t show up for care as expected;
  • Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a phone, purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat;
  • Always lock your vehicle when not in use and store keys out of  a child’s reach, so children cannot enter unattended. Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area;
  • Community members who see a child alone in a vehicle should immediately call 911 or the local emergency number. A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.

Safe Kids Worldwide supports NHTSA’s heatstroke education campaign, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” and the increased national coordination on the issue. In addition, to help prevent these tragedies, Safe Kids, with the support of General Motors, created Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car as part of its Buckle Up program, a national initiative established 18 years ago to keep children and families safe in and around cars.


Get Moving Monday: Preventing Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

It’s no secret that all over the country warm weather is now upon us. In some places, like here on the east coast, the weather is down right hot for this time of year. With this week’s high temps predicted to reach nearly triple digits each day, it is time to discuss heat related illnesses.

When the weather gets hot and people are outside being active and having fun, they can be effected by heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Both of these conditions occur when the body over heats. Normally, the body controls its temperature very well and, when it gets too hot, the body will produce sweat, which will evaporate off the skin and cool the body. But when the temperature gets extremely hot, the humidity is high or a person is vigorously active under the hot sun, the body loses its ability to cool itself down and heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur.

Another major cause of heat exhaustion and heat stroke is dehydration. When a person is dehydrated, the body can not produce sweat fast enough to keep itself cool and it will over heat.

What You Need To Know About Heat Exhaustion And Heat Stroke

People that are the most susceptible to these conditions are infants, the elderly, especially those with chronic health conditions like heart and lung disease, athletes, and those that work under the hot sun for multiple hours are at time.

Some of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness

It is important to know that a person suffering from heat exhaustion can have skin that feels cool and wet to the touch but really they are over-heating. Their breathing will be rapid and shallow and their heart rate will be very fast. It is important to treat heat exhaustion quickly for it can rapidly develop into heat stroke, a very serious condition that requires medical attention.

To treat heat exhaustion, simply cool off the person. This can be done by getting them to drink a cool, non-alcoholic beverage, bringing them into an air conditioned place, have them take a cool shower or swim, remove heavy clothes and/or having them rest.

The symptoms should go away once the person is cooled down, but, if they last more than an hour, medical attention should be sought.

As I stated earlier, heat stroke is a serious medical condition that can lead to death if it is not treated immediately.

Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • High body temperature
  • Absence of sweating with hot red or flushed dry skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Strange behavior such as hallucinations, confusion, agitation, and disorientation
  • Seizure
  • Fainting, and/or unresponsiveness.

During a heat stroke, the body’s temperature can reach levels of 106 degrees and needs to be cooled down. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 immediately and while you wait for help, cool the person down by placing them in a cool shady place, remove all heavy clothing, spray the person with a light mist of cool water, fan the person to treat and create evaporation, which will help cool the skin. If the person is unresponsive, don’t try to get them to drink since this may cause choking. If it is possible, take the person’s temperature with a thermometer and don’t stop cooling until the person reaches 101-102 degrees.

With proper treatment and returning the body temperature to a normal level, a person can survive heat exhaustion and heat stroke just fine.

Summer is fun. I want you to have a good time outside in the warm/hot weather, but just know the signs and symptoms for heat stroke and heat exhaustion and do your best to prevent them by:

  • Staying hydrated and replacing electrolytes with sports drinks during times of high physical activity
  • Taking breaks for re-hydration when spending long periods in the sun
  • Wearing light weight, flowing clothes
  • Resting when possible

Hot weather is what summer is all about, so let’s enjoy it and stay safe!