House Calls: Don’t leave kids or pets alone in car

By Quenlyn Larson July 09, 2012 02:25 pm

House Calls runs every other Saturday. Today’s column is written by Quenlyn Larson, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Sutter Coast Community Clinic.

Every year countless children die from hyperthermia (heat stroke) from being left unattended in the back seat of a car.

Since 1998, 529 children have died from heat stroke by being left in an unattended car. Thirty-three children died in 2010, and two children have died thus far in 2012, with the majority under 2 years of age. Sadly, these deaths could have been prevented.

Pets are also at risk for heat stroke if left in a car in hot weather. Their body heat can reach dangerously high temperatures on a hot day just like children and they need our help in keeping them safe. People may not realize that leaving their pet in a locked car even with the window rolled down will not keep them cool.

In just minutes, the inside of a car can become dangerously hot for a child and/or pet. You might think that leaving your child and/or pet inside in the back seat of a car even with the window cracked for a few minutes cannot possibly harm them, but think again.

Even on a mild day, the temperature inside of a closed car can quickly rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. Even with the high temperatures we get in Crescent City, in the 70s, or when traveling to areas inland with higher temperatures like Southern California or Brookings, in the 80s, the temperature inside a car can reach 90–100 degrees in the time it takes to run a quick errand.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. It happens when the body cannot cool itself fast enough and the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels. Symptoms of heat stroke include dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, hot dry flushed skin but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heart rate, and hallucinations.

California is one of the 19 states in the country that has laws that specifically address leaving a child unattended in a car. It states that a parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child who is 6 or younger may not leave that child inside a motor vehicle without being subject to the supervision of a person who is 12 or older under either of the following circumstances: 1) where conditions are present that pose a significant risk to the child’s health or 2) when the vehicle’s engine is running or when the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition and/or both. A violation is punishable by a $100 fine; however, nothing prohibits additional prosecution.

The best approach is to  never, never leave kids or pets unattended in a car, not even for one minute. If you see a child unattended in a hot car, call 911 or your local police. Be sure that everyone leaves the car when you park and don’t overlook sleeping babies.

Always lock your car and make sure children do not have access to your car keys. Tell your children that cars are never to be used as a place to play in. Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when your child is in the car seat put the stuffed animal in the front seat to remind you to look in the back seat before you leave the car.

Place your purse or brief case in the back seat as a reminder that your child is in the car with you. Make it a habit to look before you leave whenever you get out of your car and have a plan that your child-care provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

Stay safe, beat the heat, and check the back seat! Your child’s life or the life of your pet may depend on it. For more information go to Safe Kids USA website at

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it