HOUSTON (July 23, 2015)

Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital – together with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Fire Department – is committed to both creating and reinforcing awareness about the risk to children when left unattended in vehicles during hot summer days.

At an event hosted at the hospital on Thursday, experts from across the city came together to discuss the disturbing rate of these cases in Houston, the very real medical dangers of heat stroke, critical safety tips for parents and caregivers, how concerned citizens should respond if they see a child in danger, and to remind parents to always #checkforbaby before exiting their vehicle.

“We are urging all parents and caregivers to implement safe practices and adopt consistent habits to ensure a child is never placed in this life-threatening situation,” said Susie Distefano, Senior Vice President and CEO of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Since the scorching temperatures this week are expected to hover around 100 degrees, this was an especially appropriate time to discuss the issue of hot car child safety, however, these practices are important to remember not just during the summer but every day.”

“Most people don’t realize just how hot the inside of a car can get, or how quickly,” said David Persse, M.D., EMS Medical Director for the City of Houston. “Temperatures in your car can rise 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, so even on a 70-degree day, the interior of a car can easily exceed 100 degrees in a matter of minutes."

On average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles, according to KidsandCars.org. The medical dangers of leaving a child in a hot car include heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can lead to permanent disability or death. Heat stroke can cause shock, seizures, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and damage to the brain, liver and kidneys. And all of this can happen in a matter of minutes.

Robert Lapus, M.D., Director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and UTHealth Emergency Medicine Physician, explained the four most common situations in which a child is left in the car:

  • When a parent or caretaker is doing something or going somewhere outside his or her normal routine;
  • When a parent or caretaker is distracted while driving;
  • When a child finds his or her way into a parked car while playing;
  • And when a parent or caretaker intentionally leaves a child in the car, cracks the windows and thinks they “will only be a minute.”

“Children overheat four times faster than adults, and it all can happen faster than you ever think possible,” said Dr. Lapus. “And these risks aren’t just for your children; they apply to your pets too.” According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, every year hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles.

The Red Duke Trauma Institute and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital provided the following safety tips for parents and guardians:

  • Always check the backseat before exiting the vehicle. Put something in the back that you will need like a purse, a briefcase, one of your shoes, even your cell phone.
  • Also try placing something in the front seat to serve as a reminder, such as one of the child’s shoes or a stuffed animal.
  • To avoid kids getting into the car unknowingly, always lock car doors and ensure kids do not have access to the keys or remote entry devices. Also teach your children that the car is not a place for play.

In addition, the Houston Fire Department provided bright yellow tags that read “look before you lock” to all attendees. The tags are made to hang from a vehicle’s rear view mirror and serve as yet another visual reminder to drivers to always check the backseat before leaving the car.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman reminded the crowd of the legal ramifications should a child be found unattended in a sweltering vehicle. According to the Texas Penal Code, it is a Class C misdemeanor up to a felony offense, depending on the circumstances and/or injuries the child incurs while left alone in the vehicle.

The Sheriff advised citizens to immediately call 911 if they see a child left unattended in a car. If the child appears to be in imminent danger due to being left in a car, he said first check for unlocked doors then, if necessary, break a window farthest from the child as to prevent further injury.

“Never leave your child unattended in a vehicle in this heat,” said Sheriff Hickman. “The loss of a child’s life due to being left unattended in a vehicle is 100 percent preventable. So far in 2015, no children have died as a result of this in Harris County. I challenge the community to help keep it that way.”