Wake event demonstrates how hot cars can kill children

pseligson@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2013 

— Even on a relatively cool, cloudy, breezy day like Tuesday, a car can become hot enough to kill an unattended child.

In front of the Wake County Public Health Center near WakeMed Hospital, people ate s’mores melted on the dashboard of a Chevrolet Impala to demonstrate the dangers of leaving children in a vehicle unattended, especially in the summer.

The event, in its fourth year, was hosted by Wake County Human Services, Safe Kids Wake County and Bobby Murray Chevrolet.

Organizers set up a thermometer that measured temperatures inside the car and out. Just before 1 p.m., the temperature was 86.4 degrees outside – and 116 inside.

On warmer days in previous years, the interior has gotten as hot as 189 degrees.

This May alone, there were eight deaths nationwide attributed to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, the highest on record, including one in North Carolina, said Suzanne LeDoyen, injury prevention health educator for Wake County Human Services. And since 1998, more than 500 children nationally have died this way.

LeDoyen said many people think this can happen to only bad parents, but it can happen to anyone.

“The majority of these cases come from a routine being broken,” she said, such as when a parent picks up a child on a day they normally don’t and forgets about the child while going shopping.

LeDoyen said parents can’t count on children to make noise, because they can fall asleep or be engrossed in a game or toy. She said parents should always place a cellphone, purse or other item in the backseat with the child that parents can’t leave behind when they get out of the car.

She added that cracking the windows doesn’t lower the temperature, and that a car can heat up to extreme temperatures even if it’s not in direct sunlight or on a cloudy day.

“It’s never acceptable to leave the child unattended in a vehicle, ever,” LeDoyen said.

Children – and also the elderly – are more susceptible to heat, LeDoyen added.

“Children’s temperatures heat up three to five times faster than adults,” she said.

Wayne Sherrod, deputy fire marshal for the town of Fuquay-Varina, said serious injury can also occur.

“The injuries involved aren’t a broken arm or a broken leg; they’re brain damage,” Sherrod said. “Kids that will never be the same ever, ever again.”

Shakell Brown-Thompson of Raleigh attended the event with her two children and said she was surprised it could get so hot inside a car.

“I didn’t think it would increase 20-plus degrees,” she said.

Seligson: 919-829-8983

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