Every summer, heartbreaking and preventable deaths occur when children are left alone in hot cars.
To help raise awareness and reduce the risk in our community, Sarasota Memorial staffer Shawn Halls recently strapped himself into a hot car for 20minutes to show how quickly the temperature inside can turn deadly for a child. In the child safety demonstration, it took less than 10 minutes for the car’s internal temperature to rise from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 degrees, and just 20 minutes for it to reach 100 degrees.
Feeling parched, drenched and drained, the 46-yearold Halls got out of the car before the temperature rose further to avoid the risk of heat exhaustion, which if not treated promptly, can progress to more dangerous effects of heat stroke.
“After 5 minutes, I was really sweating and feeling very uncomfortable…by 10 minutes, I was just very focused on how hot it was getting,” Halls said. “It wasn’t scary for me because I knew I could get out at any moment. But that isn’t the case for kids.”
For kids, cars can get hot enough to kill in less than 15minutes, said John Ruffin, MD, a pediatric emergency physician at Sarasota Memorial who monitored Hall’s condition during the safety demonstration at the hospital in May.
Children’s bodies heat up three times faster than adults. Heat stroke occurs when their body temperature passes 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The effects often are deadly when their temperature reaches 107.
“There is no safe amount of time to leave children alone in the car,” he said. “It doesn’t take long for a child to overheat, and once they overheat, they can get very sick very fast.”
July and August are peak months for tragic deaths of young children forgotten in back seats by parents and caregivers. The National Safety Council had hoped that last year’s low number of hot-car deaths – 24 compared to an average 37 per year since 1998 – suggested that parents and caregivers were more aware of the danger. As of June, however, nearly three times as many children had died in 2016 compared to the same time last year.