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Guest column: Protect children from vehicular heatstroke

by Kira Huck and Josh Kendrick
| May 1, 2022 12:15 AM

Since 1998 more than 900 children across the United States have died from heatstroke when left unattended in a vehicle — an average of 38 deaths per year. Every one of these deaths could have been prevented. May 1 was National Heatstroke Prevention Day, and Safe Kids Montana and Montana Children’s Trust Fund are reminding parents, caregivers and community members of the things we can all do to protect children from vehicular heatstroke.

Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when a child’s body is unable to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels. Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. It is important to remember that heatstroke can happen anytime, anywhere — even in cooler temperatures. On a mild 70-degree day, the interior temperature of a vehicle can quickly rise above 100 degrees. Leaving a window partially open does not help.

Vehicular heatstroke deaths can be prevented by remembering to ACT.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute. It is also important to keep vehicles locked when not in use so children cannot gain access. Approximately 26% of child vehicular heatstroke deaths occur when a child gains access to an unattended vehicle on their own.

C: Create reminders by setting an alert on your cell phone or place and secure something in the backseat next to your child that you need at your final destination, such as a briefcase or purse. You can also work with your childcare provider to call you if your child has not been dropped off by a certain time. Reminders are especially important if you are not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

For additional information on preventing child heatstroke deaths, visit www.safekids.org/heatstroke.

— Kira Huck, Safe Kids Montana, led by Foundation for Community Health, and Josh Kendrick, Montana Children’s Trust Fund.