Expert: Take extra care keeping children from harm inside, around vehicles

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752,
Contact: Bev Kellner, 979-862-1782,

COLLEGE STATION — A car parked outside during the summer can heat up 19 degrees in just 10 minutes, and cracking a window doesn’t help, said Bev Kellner, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service traffic safety program manager, College Station.

“When discussing the possibility of heat stroke and death from excessive heat, most people think about this in relation to a child being left alone in a vehicle,” Kellner said. “But leaving a child alone in or just around a car has additional dangers, such as back-overs, the child shifting the vehicle out of park or engaging electric windows … even becoming trapped inside the vehicle or its trunk.”

Kellner said according to the Safe Kids Worldwide organization, approximately 39 percent of back-over deaths occurred at home.

“Drivers in deaths that involve children getting backed over or run over in a driveway are often family members or family friends,” she said.

In hot weather, it is especially important to make sure a child is not left inside a vehicle. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Kellner also noted children are more at risk for heatstroke inside a vehicle because their body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s.

“A heatstroke can occur at body temperatures above 104 degrees,” she said. “And even mild outside temperatures can pose a threat. However, with Texas summer temperatures climbing into the upper 90s or 100s, the danger becomes even greater. And temperatures in parked vehicles rise very quickly.”

According to a heating study conducted by Jan Null in the meteorology and climate science department of San Jose State University, after 10 minutes in the sun, a vehicle’s interior temperature increases by 19 degrees. After 20 minutes, the interior temperature increases by 29 degrees, and after 30 minutes it increases by 34 degrees. After one hour it increases by 43 degrees.

The study also showed in two-thirds of the instances of vehicle heat-up during the first 20 minutes, cracking the windows had little effect on reducing the interior temperature.

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Kellner said there are safety tips caregivers can follow to help ensure they never leave a child alone in or near a vehicle. To help prevent children from heatstroke while inside a vehicle:

— Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.

— Make a habit of looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and

walking away.

— If driving an SUV, van or bus, carefully check all seats to make sure there are no children sleeping on or behind them, or hiding under them.

— Don’t let children play in or around an unattended vehicle. Teach them the area near a vehicle is not a play area.

— Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children’s reach.

— If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk or storage area.

— If a child in a vehicle is in distress due to heat, remove and cool the child as quickly as possible, then call 911 or the local emergency number immediately.

Kellner said it is important parents and caregivers learn and share steps for preventing heat stroke death and share that information with their spouses, the child’s grandparents, babysitters and any other caregivers.

“Any change in schedule for drop-off or pickup of a child can lead to a deadly mistake,” Kellner said. “In more than half of the cases of heatstroke, the death was due to the child being ‘forgotten’ by the caregiver. Such deaths are preventable when parents take precautions to make sure children are not left alone in vehicles and cannot gain access to unlocked vehicles.”

Kellner said some tips for keeping children safe around parked vehicles include:

— Walking all the way around the parked vehicle to check for children, pets or toys before getting in the car and starting the engine.

— Making sure young children are always accompanied by an adult when getting in and out of a car.

— Designating a safe spot for children to go when nearby vehicles are about to move and having them practice going to that spot.

— Holding the child’s hand when walking near moving vehicles and when in driveways, parking lots or sidewalks, and never letting them run ahead.

Kellener said there are other important reasons children should not be left alone in vehicles besides the possibility of heatstroke.

“Children are naturally curious and active, so it’s likely they will move around and play with knobs and buttons in the vehicle when left alone,” she said.

To help ensure children do not get left alone inside a running vehicle or harm themselves or others if they do, she offered these additional suggestions:

— Never leave the keys in the car.

— Engage the emergency brake each time the vehicle is parked.

— Use drive-thru services when available.

— Use a debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump versus going inside to pay.

— Lock power windows so children can’t play with or get their hands, arms or heads caught in them. Power windows can strangle a child or cut off a finger.

“Also check to see if your vehicle has a brake transmission safety interlock, which is a safety technology to prevent children from accidentally putting a vehicle into gear,” Kellner said. “Your owner’s manual should tell you if your vehicle is equipped with BTSI. After Sept. 1, 2010, all vehicles with an automatic transmission with a ‘park’ position are required to have the system.”

Kellner said following these safety tips can make all the difference in avoiding a needless tragedy.


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