Officials of the National Weather Service say temperatures inside a vehicle can reach dangerously high levels within minutes. The inside of this vehicle reached 120 degrees Tuesday, while the outside temperature was 88. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY —A tragedy in DeKalb County Monday is a reminder that hot weather and parked cars can be a deadly mix, especially for young children.
According to media reports, a 2-year-old twin girl died Monday after she apparently got into a parked car that had a door open, closed it and was unable to get out. Her mother had asked a family member to watch her while she took the heat stroke victim’s twin sister inside the house to change her diaper.
GOOD HABITS TO GET INTO
There are habits that can be developed to lessen the likelihood of leaving a child in a vehicle, according to Kidsandcars.org.
— Never leave children alone in and around cars for even a minute;
— Place something you need on the floorboard of the back seat;
— Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle before you get out of it;
— Keep a large stuffed animal in the child car seat when it’s unoccupied; when the child is in the car, place the toy next to you on the front seat as a reminder;
— Make arrangements with regular child care or sitter that you will always call if your child isn’t coming;
— Keep vehicles locked at all times and always set the parking brake;
— Keep keys and remote door openers out of children’s reach;
— Make sure all young passengers are out of the vehicle when a destination has been reached;
— If a child is missing, check vehicles and trunks first;
— If you see a child in a hot vehicle, get involved. Get them out and call 911;
— Be especially alert about child safety during holidays, busy times, schedule changes and times of crisis;
— Use drive-thru services when available;
— Use a debit or credit card t pay for gas at the pump.
Police said the family found the child inside the car after about an hour and public safety officials administered CPR before she was rushed to a hospital. The toddler did not survive.
“Don’t leave your child inside a car alone, even for a second,” warns Brenda Greene, deputy health director for the Southwest Health District that includes Metro Albany, “and keep your car doors locked with your keys hidden.”
According to Greene, the inside of an vehicle can reach dangerous temperatures even when outside temperatures are in the 80s. Temperatures in Southwest Georgia are already topping 90 degrees on some days.
The deadly vehicle temperatures can occur, Greene said, through a type of “greenhouse” effect as the sun’s yellow, shortwave radiation flows through the glass windows of a car or SUV and heats objects inside, such as seats, the steering wheel and dashboard. That, in turn, heats surrounding air through conduction and convection.
To illustrate, a thermometer placed inside a SUV that had been parked in downtown Albany Tuesday read 120 degrees while the outside temperature had only reached 88 degrees. Also, the National Weather Service states that dark objects inside a car can reach or exceed 180-220 degrees.
Couple those scorching temperatures with the fact that a child’s thermoregulatory system is much less efficient than an adult’s and the outcome can be, and too often is, deadly.
Cars in hot or even warm weather can kill quickly. Greene warns parents who have misplaced their children to always check the inside their cars or trucks before looking anywhere else.
While automobile airbags have saved countless lives since their introduction in the 1990s, the safety device has also had some unintended consequences when it comes to small children and especially infants.
According to figures published by Jan Null, certified consulting meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Service in San Francisco, at least 109 known fatalities from heat stroke have occurred in cars since that time — a ten-fold increase from the pre-1990s rate.
A likely reason for the increase is that it’s easier to forget what you don’t see, Null said. Since potential injury from air bags necessitates that small children be placed in the back seat, parents sometimes leave a sleeping child inside a vehicle.
Those figures don’t imply that children should be placed in the front seat, or that air bags should be disconnected, Null cautions, but it does mean that special measures should be taken to jog adults’ memories.
“Put something you keep with you all the time, like a purse or briefcase, on the backseat with your child,” Greene said, “so that when you reach your destination you’ll reach for it.”
Greene also suggests that parents implement a strong “look before you leave” routine whenever they are exiting their autos. And she suggests making an agreement with child care providers to call if the child doesn’t show up for school.
Kidsandcars.org, an organization that focuses on keeping children safe when it comes to vehicles, notes that heat stroke is the second leading cause of death for children 14 and younger when it comes to nontraffic-related fatalities. With at least 647 heat stroke deaths from 1991 through 2012, it trails only the 1,126 instances in which a child was killed when a car backed over it.
The organization said there were another 44 heat-stroke child deaths in 2013, and that the death Monday in DeKalb County was the fourth so far this year.