Why is it so dangerous to leave a child alone in a car? Because of biology, anatomy, thermodynamics.
Let’s talk a little about Infant and Child Anatomy:
- Infants and children do not temperature regulate well. They have too much surface area for their body mass, meaning they lose heat too quickly because they don’t have enough mass to contain the heat.
- Because they lose heat quickly, they generate it faster, 3 to 5 times faster than adults. For example, when you’re holding a baby for a while and then hand them off to someone else, you feel chilled. This is because the baby was generating so much heat that our temperature drops. (We are the best thermo-regulators that a baby can have.)
Next, let’s set the stage and look at what happens in a car.
The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation and are warmed little. However, this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes. For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees F. The temperature inside the car can jump nearly 20 degrees from the ambient temperature in the first 10 minutes.
The next statistic is what the circumstances are that children are coming to be in the car alone:
An examination of media reports about the 494 child vehicular hyperthermia deaths for an thirteen year period (1998 through 2011) shows the following circumstances:
- 52% - child "forgotten" by caregiver (253 Children)
- 30% - child playing in unattended vehicle (150)
- 17% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (86)
- 1% - circumstances unknown (5)
(A point that comes up often when discussing hyperthermia in kids alone in cars is the fact that parents don’t see the child because they’re sitting in their car seat in the back seat. The safest place in the car during a crash is the center of the back seat. Car crashes are very common. We need to find a way to overcome kids being left alone in the car versus moving the car seat to the front seat.)
The final question: What can you do to keep your child safe?
- Look before you lock
- Place your purse or laptop or briefcase in the floorboard of the backseat. This forces you to get into the backseat before you leave your car.
- Place the diaper bag in the front seat so you’ll see it when you go to get out of the car.
- Some have suggested placing a teddy bear in the car seat when the child is not in it, then when the child is in the car seat, you place the teddy bear in the front seat to remind you the baby is in the car.
Bottom line, find whatever method works for you to always look before you lock.