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Vehicular Heatstroke - What Is It and How to Avoid It

Extreme heat or heatwaves represent periods of unusually high temperatures that can cause people to become ill from heatstroke or heat-related stress, with a potential risk of fatality for some people. The most vulnerable groups are usually infants, young children, the elderly, chronic patients, people who suffer from co-morbidities and cognitive impairment, outdoor workers, people with limited social support, and individuals with improper thermal protection in their homes or cars.

In this article, we are going to further expand on the topic of vehicular heatstroke. Read our comprehensive guide to learn what vehicular heatstroke is, how to prevent it, how to use special apps and technology for prevention purposes, and why locksmiths are crucial to prevent a potential disaster.

What Is Vehicular Heatstroke?

In general, vehicular heatstroke can occur when an individual belonging to any of the previously mentioned categories of vulnerable people is trapped inside a hot car during a severe heatwave. Most cases of reported vehicular heatstrokes refer to children who have died because they were left inside heated vehicles and their internal body core temperate reached at least 107 degrees. This is a temperature at which the human body can no longer cool down on its own, using perspiration and other similar processes.

Further more, children’s bodies are known to overheat three to five times quicker compared to the bodies of adults. This makes them highly susceptible to heatstrokes. In every three out of ten cases of children who lose their lives because of vehicular heatstroke in the US, the children had climbed into the car on their own and they weren't able to exit the vehicle. In two out of 10 cases, underaged victims of vehicular heatstroke have been knowingly left in the vehicle by a caregiver, while 54% of them were unknowingly left inside the hot cars by parents and other caregivers.

Types of Vehicular Heatstroke

When referring to children, two types of vehicular heatstrokes can be defined:

Vehicular heatstroke caused by entrapment. This occurs when children get into a car on their own while lacking proper adult supervision, and they remain trapped inside by accident.

Vehicular heatstroke caused by parents or caregivers unknowingly leaving children in the car. Some of the main reasons that can lead to these tragedies include changes in caregivers’ routines, false memory, and high levels of stress that wrongfully made them believe they had already dropped their children off somewhere.

The 10-Minute Rule

It only takes 10 minutes for a hot, parked car to cause a fatality in the summer. In fact, during a hot summer day, the greenhouse effects inside a vehicle can easily cause the temperature to reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in just six minutes. This is still valid with cracked open windows. In the past two and a half decades, over 900 children have died of heatstroke, and over 50% of them were unknowingly left behind by caregivers, according to official data from NoHeatStroke.org.

According to experts in cognitive neuroscience, it is a matter of memory lapses and circumstances and not a case of negligence. The same people explain that these tragedies can occur to anyone, no matter what their education or socioeconomic status might be.

How to Prevent Vehicular Heatstroke?

Memory failures that can lead to these cases of hot car deaths can be combated with the help of child-specific strategies:

Use safeguards. Caregivers should make an agreement with child-care providers to notify them whenever their children will be absent or running late. Child-care providers also need to notify parents whenever their children fail to arrive at the regular time for drop-off.

Set phone reminders. Use your smartphone to set reminders to check with your partner or spouse to make sure they have successfully dropped the children off at school or kindergarten.

Lock up. Never leave the vehicle unlocked and make sure the keys are out of reach of children.

Use visual reminders. Put a piece of clothing, a diaper bag, a toy, or something else that will remind you of your child in the front passenger seat.

Turn around. Find reasons to always turn around and look at the back seat. Place your phone there, a backpack, the kids’ lunch box, or your laptop bag.

Never leave your children unattended in a car. No matter how quick your errand might be, never leave your child inside the car, regardless of how hot or cold the outside temperature may be. Vehicles can rapidly heat up to levels that could be fatal even during days with mild temperatures.

Use a car seat with integrated reminder technology. These are vehicles that feature seats with rear occupant alert systems and sensors that are turned on by default, alerting drivers whenever a passenger is left in the backseat.

Apps and Technology to Prevent Vehicular Heatstroke

Apart from the previously mentioned car seats or vehicles sold with integrated reminder technology, there are dedicated apps and additional technology options that can be used to send alerts to drivers in case a child, a pet, or a vulnerable individual, in general, is left behind in the backseat when the engine is no longer running. WAZE is such an app that is capable of sending similar reminders to drivers, alerting them of the presence of a child in the backseat when getting to their destination or when the car is turned off.

Safety bracelets worn by children can also be used as effective reminders never to leave them behind when getting ready to exit the vehicle. According to recommendations from the National Safety Council, reminders that sound car seat alarms or display dashboard messages are also good solutions to prevent vehicular heatstrokes.

Finally, car locksmiths are crucial for maintaining locks and keys in proper shape and thus preventing accidental lockdowns of vehicles with trapped children inside. If you find yourself in a dire situation caused by an accidental car entrapment, immediately call 911 and ask for help. Less urgent car lockouts that do not incur any potential victims trapped inside can be quickly tackled by our emergency car lockout experts.