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Locked cars are death trap for kids, warn UAE experts

Jasmine Al Kuttab/Abu Dhabi
Filed on September 6, 2017 | Last updated on September 6, 2017 at 05.37 pm
Locked cars are death trap for kids, warn UAE experts
A child inside locked car (illustrative photo only). - Photo by M. Sajjad

The greatest danger in closed cars is hyperthermia/heatstroke, and their bodies heat up to 3-5 times faster than an adult's

A locked vehicle can become a death trap for children, experts warned parents after a six-year-old-girl tragically died of suffocation in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

According to doctors, parents should never leave their children locked inside their vehicles "even for a minute" as it might even lead to death. Dr Deepti Chaturvedi, specialist - paediatrics, Burjeel Hospital, warned parents: "Do not think that you need just one minute to have the petrol filled up, or to go to the grocery store and then get held up. The moment you realise the harm, it could be a moment too late.

"The temperature inside a car can increase around 20C in just 10 minutes and 40C in one hour. So never leave the child alone in the vehicle, even for a minute. Children are more at risk compared to adults, when it comes to being left inside vehicles."

Dr Chaturvedi pointed out that even if the temperature is 21C, heatstroke can occur. "The greatest danger for kids and the harm that could arise is hyperthermia/heatstroke." Heatstroke can damage the brain as well as other organs, and can have long-term damages. She explained that the child's body heats up to three-five times faster than the body of an adult.

Dr Chaturvedi added: "So imagine with the kind of heat that we are in right now - worse things can happen very rapidly. Brain damage can occur when vital organ doesn't get the electrolytes and oxygen it needs. We have seen a lot of cases of hyperthermia and we have seen the severe side effects it causes."

Dehydration, renal and gastritis shutdowns, circulatory failure and neurological symptoms, including irritability, hallucinations, seizure, psychological trauma and coma, are linked to hyperthermia.

Most recent tragedies

On Monday, a six-year-old-girl tragically died of suffocation in Abu Dhabi, after being left in the car for six hours. In June, two Emirati sisters suffocated to death inside a vehicle in Ajman. The sisters, aged just two and four, went inside their father's car at the family's residence to play, which automatically locked once they entered. Last week in Ajman, a 20-month-old baby, who was also accidentally trapped inside the parent's vehicle, was rescued by the Ajman Police. In 2016, a whopping 86 cases of children locked inside vehicles were reported by Dubai Police.

Dr Chaturvedi advised all parents to leave notes or reminders inside their vehicles. "Parents should have a system that allows them to remember to check the back seat, such as an indication or a big stuffed toy kept it in the passenger seat whenever the child is in the back."

Mostly, parents leave their children inside locked cars out of ignorance and lack of awareness. However, if something untoward happens, they must explain such incidences to siblings and other young children in the family, according to a clinical psychologist.

When a child suffocates to death,Dr Amy Bailey, head of Psychology, kidsFIRST Medical Centre, told Khaleej Times that "parents need to be honest but they must be careful about how they talk about it with their children. For example, they can try saying 'the parents made a mistake or something terrible happened. It is unusual when something so bad happens and when people make a mistake. It's is very sad'. This not only gives them truth, but acknowledges their emotions and reassures the child."

Do not leave your child in the vehicle, even if AC is on

Dr Tomson Thomas, consultant - pediatric surgeon, Universal Hospital, said it can even be more dangerous for children left in vehicles that are left switched on, yet stationary.

"What often happens in the UAE is that parents assume it is safe to leave their children inside the car while the engine is running and the AC on, because of the heat."

He explained that small emissions of toxic gases could enter the cabin whenever the car is running and stationary.

"This can cause extreme fatigue to the point were the child suddenly collapses."

"Even if the AC is running, the baby will still rapidly become dehydrated, because the size of the head is larger than the body."

Along with dehydration and heatstroke, the toxic gases can also lead to detrimental consequences and the child can quickly go into shock-mode.

"If an adult and a child are left inside the vehicle, the child will collapse in half the time, compared to the adult."

He explained that adults are able to adjust their bodies to different temperatures quickly, whereas children cannot.

Dr Thomas said a baby that was forgotten inside his parent's vehicle was recently admitted to the hospital, and although the baby did not collapse, he was drowsy and weak.

"When adults travel in heat they correct their dehydration by drinking water, but babies and children don't do this, because they don't know what to do - they just feel thirsty and go into shock."

He explained that the green house effect mechanism has much to do with how a vehicle can become a deathtrap for children.

"As the sunlight enters the car through the window it becomes trapped within the car, so the heat increases rapidly and it becomes fatal."

"Babies are often strapped in their child-seat and cannot move, wave their hands or call for help easily."

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