Summer signals peak season for hot car deaths

Parents urged to set up reminders to avoid tragedy

SAN ANTONIO – While the Memorial Day weekend is known for honoring military heroes, barbecues and fun in the sun, it's also known for a heartbreaking tragedy -- hot car deaths.

Experts say between Memorial Day and Labor Day, more children will die in hot cars than any other time of the year.

"Sometimes they just become dehydrated and their kidneys can start to shut down, but even more concerning is they can start to suffer brain damage," said Dr. Mark Muir, trauma medical director at University Hospital. "Some of these kids come in unconscious or unresponsive. If they are treated quickly or found quickly, they'll be OK, but a lot of time they'll have irreversible brain damage."
Kids are more likely to die of heatstroke than an adult because their bodies can't regulate the heat the way most of us can, Muir said.  

"Kids are smaller. They just have less surface area so they can't get rid of heat as quickly," Muir said. "Adults, we sweat, we get rid of heat a lot faster. In kids, it just accumulates and skyrockets." 

University Hospital has a demonstration van that can graphically show heat building up. While an outdoor thermometer will read 81 degrees, the internal temperature of the van shows 130 degrees.  

But Muir said hot car tragedies are avoidable. 

"We tell people, 'anything you can do to set a reminder (in) your purse, your briefcase, your backpack.' Something you set beside the child seat that you won't forget when you get out, particularly if you change your daily routine," Muir said.

There are also new car designs and technology that can help distracted drivers, which the National Safety Council notes on its website.

Rear seat reminder: If a rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or is opened and closed while the vehicle is running, five chimes will sound and a message will display on the instrument panel when the vehicle shuts off to remind the driver to check the rear seat. This technology is available on several 2017 GM vehicles.

Car seat technology: This technology generates a series of tones activated through a "smart" chest clip and wireless receiver to remind the driver that a child is in the rear seat within two seconds of turning off the vehicle.

For more information on hot car prevention, click here for a recent news story that explains new technologies and apps that can help.

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