I drove my kids to the corner store a few days ago and as they ran in with their friends I shut the engine off. In less than a minute I could feel the inside of my truck rapidly heating up, but rather than turn on the air conditioning so I could cool down, I decided to see how long I could tolerate the extreme heat.
I’d recently seen some social experiment videos in which people tested their endurance in a hot car and I was curious to feel it for myself. With the temperature at 90 degrees outside, how much would it rise with the doors closed and the windows rolled up? How long would I be able to hack it?
By the time the kids returned close to eight minutes later I was drenched with sweat and felt like I’d been cooking in an oven. I had no idea how hot it had become, but after reading that a car can heat up to 125 degrees within minutes, I believe that probably wasn’t far off. When we consider the core temperature of an infant or young child can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult, it’s not surprising that over 700 of them have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1990. According to the nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars, 38 deaths per year is the new average, and that’s just in the U.S. Statistics such as these are unavailable in Canada.
“He was asleep,” one of my friends explained about leaving her own toddler in the back seat when she ran into Starbucks. “And I was only going to be minute or two.” But the decision she thought was harmless because she’d parked out front and could see her car from the counter, turned into a regret she’ll never repeat.
“My order took longer that I expected,” she said. “And I’d also run into an old friend I started chatting with.” By the time she returned, her baby was crying and there were two concerned strangers trying to open her doors, angry she’d left him in there, and about to call 911. At first she was defensive and thought they were overreacting, but with her boiling hot two year old out of his car seat and in her arms sobbing she felt both mortified and grateful that her child was still conscious.
People can have a terrible sense of how long it takes to do things and it only takes minutes in an overheated car for a child to suffer irreversible brain or kidney injuries. When body temperatures reach 104 degrees, internal organs can shut down, and at 107 degrees children can die.This doesn’t just happen to children left unattended by parents imagining they’ll be a brief moment either. It also happens to little ones who’ve been temporarily forgotten. Often due to a change in routine combined with fatigue and distracted thinking, loving parents have been known to have complete memory failure regarding their children in the back seat, only to discover their heartbreaking death once they return to the car.
Medical experts caution us not to think it can’t happen to us and recommend leaving a shoe, wallet, phone or something we’ll need to retrieve from the backseat as a full-proof reminder of the child. And since kids sometimes get into cars on their own, they should always be locked and keys and remote openers should be placed out of their reach.
Leaving anyone in a vehicle who’s unable to open the door and remove themselves should never be done. And that advice applies to man’s best friend as well. Canines don’t sweat and have no way of cooling themselves, so an over heated vehicle can easily kill a dog. If you see a helpless person or animal in a hot car, remember that every second counts. Call 911, have someone report the name, model and license plate of the vehicle to the nearest business and don’t leave the scene until the situation’s resolved. If the parent or authorities are too slow to arrive and a life appears to be in imminent danger, find a witness who agrees and take steps to remove them from the hot car.
Depending on the city, attempting a rescue such as this could lead to charges being laid – especially in the case of a broken window – but saving a life would be worth that risk to most of us. Once they’re out, move them to an air-conditioned space if possible, give them non-ice water to drink and to cool them down with. Even on a day with milder temperatures and the windows cracked, a car can heat up exceedingly fast. Vehicular heatstroke fatalities have occurred with outside temperatures as low as 60 degrees, so always take them with you. Or if they’re a pet, leave them safe at home.
For more information please visit: KidsAndCars.org
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com