Leaving a child, senior or pet behind in a car can pose serious danger, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
That was the message of the hot car safety event hosted by Ellen Walston, Injury Prevention Program coordinator at ECU Health Medical Center, along with the Pitt County Health Department and the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children.
Walston said it’s dangerous for anyone to be left alone in a vehicle because of how quickly they can heat up, but especially for children.
“Children’s bodies heat three to five times more quickly than adults,” Walston said. “They all have a smaller amount of body surface so they can’t cool themselves very quickly. A small child, like the families we’re serving today, they can’t verbalize when they’re thirsty if they’re under a certain age. You really have to be very careful. The message is never leave a child alone in a car, not even for a minute.”
The team had a demonstration with temperature gauges and s’mores roasting in a vehicle on an 80-degree day, one of the coolest days in recent weeks in eastern North Carolina. Despite the cooler than normal temperatures, the interior of the van rose to 90 degrees within 15 minutes, over 100 degrees after an hour, and approached 120 degrees in an hour and a half.
The s’mores demonstration showed how quickly things can literally cook inside of a car when left alone.
“As you see we have this temperature gauge here and just in the last 15 minutes, it’s already gone up 10 degrees,” Walston said. “This is a white car with light interior, and with a dark car and dark interior it can heat the car more quickly.”
Walston noted that there have already been 10 deaths across the country this year from children left alone in cars. In North Carolina, we have seen one this year and another in neighboring Virginia.
She said more than 50 percent of child deaths from hot cars are from children that have been forgotten in vehicles. She said children can be forgotten when routines are broken and leaving something like keys, your cellphone or a briefcase in the backseat next to the child is a safe way to ensure the child is not left alone.
According to Walston, about 17 percent of hot car fatalities are children that are intentionally left behind. She said no amount of time is safe for a child to be left alone, even with windows cracked.
“Many times folks think that, I’m just going into the store for a few minutes, but anything could happen inside, you could become distracted and forget the child,” Walston said. “There is a misnomer that if you crack a window and that will offer some less heat, but that really is a myth. It doesn’t affect the temperature of the car.”