Child Heatstroke, Deaths in Vehicles Preventable

Monday, May 04, 2015 | 09:58am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – “Children should never be left alone in cars. Children should never be left alone in cars. Children should never be left alone in cars.”

That’s the message Michael Warren, MD, repeatedly stresses and wants all Tennesseans to start thinking about now. As director of the Tennessee Department of Health’s Family Health and Wellness office, he studies ways to keep children safe and believes “parents can never be too vigilant in protecting their children from heatstroke in vehicles.”

“It’s important to be vigilant throughout the year—but even more so with our warmest months approaching,” Warren said. “The sunny days and rising temperatures of May can quickly increase the temperature inside a vehicle.  In just 10 minutes, the temperature inside an average car or truck can increase 20 degrees.  While that might not seem like a lot, it’s important to know a child’s body can heat up three to five times faster than an adult.  Heat can quickly damage organs, causing severe harm and even death.”

To prevent accidentally leaving a child in a safety seat, parents may consider placing something beside the child that is needed at the final destination, such as a purse, briefcase, cellphone or other important belonging.  They may also tape notes to the dashboard or consider a commercially available electronic warning device.

“A momentary lapse can create a tragedy,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH.  “We know this can happen to anyone; we all need to do our part.  Don’t let it happen to you.”

Everyone, not just parents, should keep their vehicles locked.  This will prevent a child from entering when no one else is around and accidentally locking themselves inside.  Persons who see an unattended child in a car and are concerned about the child’s health should immediately call 911.

A good Samaritan law went into effect in Tennessee July 1, 2014; it gives protection to those attempting to remove a minor from a vehicle for the sake of saving a life.  That law, T.C.A. § 29-34-209, allows those who have a reasonable belief a child is in danger and have contacted law enforcement/fire department for assistance, to forcibly enter a locked vehicle without fear of civil liability.

 “Vehicles can become ovens quickly, even when parked in shady areas or when there are clouds,” Warren said.  “Young children, the elderly and those with health issues cannot tolerate heat and may be at great risk for heatstroke.  A timely intervention by a caring person could certainly save a life.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.  Learn more about TDH services and programs at