Leaving babies, children, the elderly, other vulnerable people or animals unattended in a closed vehicle, even for a short time, is dangerous, potentially even fatal, and is to be avoided at all times.
Shalen Ramduth, general manager of national operations for Netcare 911, says the temperature inside a vehicle parked in the sun can increase exponentially, causing a situation that is life-threatening for young and old alike. “This is because radiant energy from the sun, which is able to pass through glass, shines into the vehicle, quickly warming the interior. With very few reflective surfaces inside a vehicle, the energy is absorbed rather than radiated outwards. As there is limited airflow, non-radiant energy also remains inside the vehicle, and this adds to the rapid rise in temperature.”
Ramduth says Netcare 911 has on occasion responded to calls related to dehydrated children and elderly people who have been left in motor vehicles. “It happens so easily and unexpectedly. Children occasionally fall asleep and are forgotten in vehicles, while others may be left behind as their caregivers underestimate how long they will be away from the vehicle and the related dangers of leaving their children unattended. Children also accidently lock themselves inside a stationery vehicle while playing.”
An article entitled “Heat Stress from Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed Vehicles”, published in Pediatrics, provides evidence that the temperature inside a vehicle can rise significantly, with the most dramatic temperature increase occurring within the first 15 to 30 minutes. Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly reduce the maximum temperature measured inside the vehicle.
In tests done on a relatively cool day, the temperature inside a vehicle reached 37.7°C within 25 minutes while the outside temperature was only 22.7°C.
- Why children are at high risk
“Babies and young children are at higher risk of heatstroke as their bodies can heat up as much as three to five times faster than that of an adult because their internal thermo regulatory systems are not fully developed. Under stress, they tend to absorb or generate heat quickly and are less able to cool the body,” observes Ramduth.
“This makes them particularly vulnerable to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. If these medical conditions are not rapidly treated it can be very serious, even life-threatening,” he notes.
- Why elderly people are at high risk
Elderly people are also at risk as their bodies contain less water than those of healthy adults and the thirst mechanism often becomes less sensitive as people age. This means that they may feel less inclined to drink water and stay hydrated. Many older individuals also take medication that have a dehydrating effect on the body or impair the body’s ability to cool itself.
Ramduth advises that it is therefore important that babies, children and elderly people who have been left unattended in hot vehicles undergo a medical examination to ensure they are not suffering from either heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
- Netcare 911’s advice to ensure the safety of our children and elderly:
- If you see a child or elderly person left in a hot vehicle and are concerned for their safety, call a medical emergency service provider.
- Make sure that everyone has left your vehicle after parking. Do not forget sleeping children.
- Lock your car and make sure that children cannot access your keys. Teach your children not to play in motor vehicles.
“Never leave children, elderly folk or pets in vehicles, not even for a minute. You may think you can rush into a shop but you may get stuck in a queue or get distracted. You may park in the shade only to find that the vehicle is in full sun when you come back. It is simply not worth taking the risk of compromising the health and lives of your loved ones,” he adds.