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Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt partners with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and state safety officials to prevent child heat stroke injuries and deaths

June 26, 2012

It took less than 10 minutes today for temperatures to rise from 79 to a blazing 113 degrees inside a parked SUV on the plaza at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Today’s brief respite in Middle Tennessee from temperatures over 90 degrees is just that, a one-day reprieve from temperatures expected to near 100 by week’s end, which can place children left in unattended vehicles at extreme risk for severe hyperthermia and heat stroke in just minutes.

The SUV was used to illustrate the danger of leaving children unattended in vehicles -- part of a special safety demonstration led by officials at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Governor’s Highway Safety Office and Safe Kids USA.

According to physicians at Children’s Hospital, a child's body heats up three to five times faster than an adult's, and when the body's temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs begin to shut down.

Each summer, the emergency department treats several children who are left unattended in vehicles, which is illegal in Tennessee. Since 1998, more than 500 children died from hyperthermia or heatstroke when left unattended in a vehicle, according to Safe Kids USA. More than 50 percent of those deaths were children who were “forgotten” inside a vehicle.

“Unfortunately, vehicle-related heat deaths continue to happen every year, and they can happen to anyone,” said Kim Harrell, director of Children’s Health Advocacy for Children’s Hospital. “Caregivers often experience a break in their everyday routine and simply forget that the child is in the car. It is extremely important, especially for new parents, to make a habit of checking the entire car before walking away and locking the doors.”

Harrell said community members who see a child left alone in a hot vehicle should call 911 immediately.

As part of its “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” national campaign, NHTSA and Safe Kids USA provide the following precautions to prevent heat stroke incidents:
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle—even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle—front and back—before locking the door and walking away;
• Ask the child care provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected;
• Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle: place a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle; write a note or use a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat;
• Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.

Today’s event is one of many NHTSA is hosting around the country as part of its nationwide campaign. To learn more, visit

For information about child passenger safety, please visit Children's Hospital's website at


Media Inquiries:
Jeremy Rush
Media Relations Manager
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Phone: 615-322-4747
Email: jeremy

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