How many times have you passed a parked car with an animal sitting in it?
Or worse, with a child sitting in it while the car is off?
We Louisianans know how hot that car can be just because we have all experienced those suffocating minutes after turning our cars on and waiting for the air to start circulating.
But imagine just sitting in it…being strapped into a car seat unable to get out.
So the other day my wife challenged me to sit in a car with the air off and see how long it to took before the heat became unbearable.
(Spoiler alert: I told her it would take a while for me because I tolerate the heat really well unlike my wife and kids. And even though the car got really uncomfortable, I probably could have stayed in a little longer…)
I was shocked to find out how quickly the car’s temperature rose after I turned off the engine.
My car started off at 90.5 degrees after having the air conditioning on for a while. However, within 1 minute, the temperature rose 6 degrees.
By two minutes, it was already at 99.9 degrees.
After 3 minutes of sitting in the car with no air on and no windows cracked, the temperature had risen to 106.6 degrees, which was an increase of 15 degrees.
By four minutes, it was 114.8 degrees.
By seven minutes, it was 121.2 degrees (30.7 degree increase). At this point, I was pretty uncomfortable. I was sweating and my ears were getting really red, which is always a sign for me that I’m hot.
By fifteen minutes, it was 126.3 (35.8 degrees increase).
After 22 minutes, my wife decided enough was enough. At that point, the temperature was 129.5, although it had climbed all the way up to 132.4 degrees (41.9 degrees increase!) at one point.
The takeaway for me was that it does not take long for a car to reach extremely hot temperatures.
So in the time it could take you to run into Chick-Fil-A to get your lunch, your vehicle’s interior temperature could go up 25-40 degrees! If you thought you would just be in and out and it would be easier to leave your child or pet in the car instead of going through the very long drive thru, you might be putting your child or pet into a very dangerous and even deadly situation.
In the process of learning about the dangers of leaving children or pets in hot cars, I learned some other surprising facts too.
Did you know…
38 children die on average each year from vehicular heatstroke
2018 was the worst year for vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1990. I would have guessed the number would be steadily going down as we learn more and hear more horror stories from parents this has happened to. Unfortunately, we are not seeing a declining trend.
Cracking the windows does not slow the heating process. Many people get a false sense of security from rolling down their windows a bit thinking it will allow for some air flow. This can be a dangerous misunderstanding.
On an 80 degree day, it takes only 10 minutes for a vehicle to reach deadly temperatures.
Temperatures can reach 125 degrees in minutes.
55% of the deaths of children left in hot cars were unintentional. In other words, the parents or caretakers did not realize they left their child in the car.
In 27% of vehicular heatstroke deaths, the child got into the car on its own without the parents’ or caretaker’s knowledge. This is scary. Especially knowing how curious and mischievous my own children are.
88% of children who died from vehicular heatstroke were under three years old. This is not surprising to me because children 3 and under tend to still be in harnessed car seats and they often cannot unbuckle those seat belts themselves to get out of the car if they needed to.
54% of children who died in hot cars were under the age of 1. This is also not surprising.
A child’s body temperature can overheat 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. So even though I felt like I could have stayed in the hot car longer, that does not mean a child would be able to handle the heat the same way.
So what can you do?
Leave something you need in the back seat of your car. This will force you to look in the back seat and may remind you that your child is still in the car (or is in there even though you didn’t know…). Suggested items are purses, work keys, cell phones (probably a safer place for it anyway), or even something like a shoe, which you know you won’t get out of the car without.
Keep your vehicle locked when it’s in your driveway or garage. Kids are curious and may want to pretend to be mom or dad and “drive” the car. Or they may get into the car looking for something and find themselves unable to get out. (My five year old has only been strong enough to open the car door himself for a few months.)
Teach your kids to honk the horn if they get stuck in the car. This could be a lifesaver, especially if they were able to get into the car but are not able to get out.
If a child is missing at home, make your cars one of the first places you look. Of course other danger zones like pools and bathtubs are equally as important, but don’t forget to check the car. Even if you keep your vehicle locked, your child may have found your keys and gotten into the car but again may not be strong enough to get out of it.
Be especially vigilant during busy times or changes in routine. This is sadly when a lot of these tragedies occur. There have been many tragic stories of new parents going back to work and not used to the routine of dropping the baby off at daycare only to remember too late. An even smaller change in routine could cause a busy parent to forget such as a day off school, a new route after a move, a new work schedule, etc. And of course busy times of year like Christmas or summer when children are in all sorts of different activities are times that a busy parent or caregiver simply forgets due to lack of routine.
Don’t assume it can’t or won’t happen to you. I hear parents say all the time that this sort of thing only happens to negligent parents or absentminded parents or parents who do not love their kids as much. I have heard people in my own family say, “There is just no way I would ever let that happen. How could I forget about my precious (daughter, granddaughter, nephew, etc.)??? These are dangerous assumptions to make. This type of tragedy happens to people of all education and socioeconomic statuses. It happens to teachers, police officers, doctors, social workers, even rocket scientists! It happens to people who are in the business of child protection but are also simply human.
So the bottom line is this…
Though many of us know better than to leave our child or pet in a hot car, child deaths from vehicular heatstroke are not decreasing. And it does not take long for the temperature inside a car to become deadly, especially for a child whose body temperature raises faster than an adult’s. However, knowledge and preventative habits can help you make sure this type of tragedy does not happen to you.