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Cars Are No Place for Kids to Be Alone

Heat stroke just one of many dangers for children in unattended vehicles, experts warn

THURSDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) -- At any time of year, but especially in warm weather, don't even think about leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.

New research from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children is hyperthermia, better known as heat stroke.

"Even with the windows rolled down two inches, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of a vehicle to reach deadly temperatures on a hot summer day," Ronald Medford, acting deputy administrator of NHTSA, said in a news release. "Children should never be left alone in or around a motor vehicle, not even for a quick errand. Any number of things can go critically wrong in the blink of an eye."

Strangulation by power windows and carbon monoxide poisoning are among the other leading causes of the 44 deaths and 105,000 injuries to children that occur on average in non-crash-related vehicle incidents each year.

The NHTSA warns adults to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle and never let them play in an unattended vehicle. Always lock the vehicle and roll up windows when parking in an area where children could enter your vehicle. If a child in the area is missing, always check your car interior and trunk first, the organization advises.

If you spot a child alone in a hot vehicle or suspect hyperthermia, call the police or 911 for help. Warning signs of hyperthermia include skin that is red, hot and moist or dry, a lack of sweating, a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely. In these cases, try to cool the child rapidly.

If you are not in the habit of driving an infant or small child, experts recommend several strategies to remind you about your little passenger so you do not inadvertently leave him or her behind. These include putting a reminder note somewhere you will notice when leaving the vehicle or placing your purse, briefcase or some other necessary belonging in the back seat so you will have to check there before leaving the vehicle.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about heat stroke and dealing with extreme heat.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, news release, June 2009

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