Hot cars can be deadly

Bill Smith

For years my good friend Everett Davis would do a column on bluebirds in this paper. We all knew it was February because that was when it was produced annually. In public health, we do stories on rabies in April and then ticks and then mosquitoes follow as the weather warms. Recently, there has a been a lot written about children being left in vehicles and dying from heat stroke as the weather gets even warmer.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Which states have the most children who die from heat in cars? Which months do the most deaths occur? If you use simple logic to figure out where and when it is the warmest, then the answer is apparent — the South and summer. In looking at the totals, there have been 37 child deaths per year since 1998 relating to heat exposure in cars — a total of 640 to date. Last year there were 30, so perhaps it is trending downward.

Simply put, 80 degrees outside temperature can heat to 123 degrees with in a vehicle in 60 minutes. While much discussion centers on the deaths, those who do not die need to be considered. Almost a full quarter of the children died within the year after being exposed to the extreme conditions — most within three months. All of the survivors suffered some amount of brain and nervous system impairment. Half of these were diagnosed with kidney problems and blood clots and 10 percent had malfunctioning lungs due to inflammation.

A New Jersey court ruling stated that a parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child alone in a motor vehicle out of a parent’s sight for any time. As such, the parent is guilty of abuse. While this ruling is not applicable to our state, how many times have we seen drivers go inside to pay for gasoline while the children are left outside? But should one expect to have to unload all of the kids and trudge inside just because the pump did not take a credit card?

The take-home message is simple: It gets hot early in the year in Robeson and stays that way for some time. For the majority of the year around here, leaving a child in the car unattended is inviting trouble. Do not do it.