When temps rise, children more at risk in hot cars

The end of the school year brings relief for children thrilled for a break from classes, but many parents already are looking forward to August. Amid running errands, getting to work, attending camps and swimming lessons and vacation planning, it’s easy to just want a little grown up down time. If you’re out running errands in the heat with whiny children, it can be tempting to leave them in the car while you grocery shop.

Don’t do it. Temperatures inside a vehicle can rise as much as 20 degrees in 10 minutes, even when it’s not incredibly hot outside, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Leaving the windows partially rolled down does little to help.

Very young children are vulnerable to heat exhaustion and can’t fend for themselves if left alone. Even older children who may be physically capable of leaving a hot car on their own may not have the maturity to do so. If children are trapped inside cars, especially in hot weather, they can suffer heat exhaustion and stroke in a matter of minutes, even leading to permanent disability or death. Most deaths caused by pediatric vehicular heatstroke are preventable.

Aside from the risks to children, the Texas Penal Code states that leaving a young child unattended in a car is a crime. According to Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 10 of the Penal Code, “a person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:

(1) younger than seven years of age; and

(2) not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.

(b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

Leaving a child unattended is also a form of neglectful supervision that may be investigated by Child Protective Services. Neglectful supervision generally means leaving a child in a situation that a reasonable person would realize poses risks that would require judgment beyond the child’s maturity or developmental stage to mitigate on their own. Neglectful supervision accounts for more than half of all confirmed abuse or neglect cases in Texas, according to the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Tips for Summer Car Safety according to the Texas Department of Public Safety:

  • Train yourself to check the backseat before you lock your car doors. Leave a purse or cell phone in the backseat so you have more reasons to open the back doors before you lock your car.
  • Call 9-1-1 if you see a child alone in a car. Do not leave the area. It’s okay to feel like a nuisance. You aren’t interfering with someone’s parenting. A child alone in a car is not safe and needs an adult to intervene.
  • Teach your kids not to play in cars and make sure keys are kept out of their reach when not in use.
  • If a child is missing, open car doors and trunks to all vehicles in the vicinity.

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