Wednesday, July 20, 2022

As dangerous, more frequent heat waves hit some parts of the United States, record-high temperatures can be deadly for children, pets, or even adults. Especially inside cars, where cabin temperatures can quickly kill almost anything inside. Since 1998, more than 900 children have died of vehicular heatstroke because they were left or became trapped in a hot car. Everyone needs to understand that children, pets, and the elderly are more vulnerable to heatstroke and that all hot car deaths are preventable. We — as parents, caregivers, and bystanders — play a role in helping to make sure another death doesn’t happen.

Cars are like greenhouses, quickly absorbing the sun’s rays and turning into four-wheeled ovens. When left in the sun, a car’s interior temperature can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. Even on a relatively cool day, around 70 degrees ambient temperature, the sun can heat a car cabin to well over 100 degrees. So when ambient temperatures are already over 100 degrees, car cabins can become lethal.

Heat stroke begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees, and prolonged heat stroke can cause permanent organ damage and even death. Young children and people over 65 years old are even more susceptible to heat stroke, as their nervous systems may be compromised. When children, pets, and the elderly are left in or gain access to cars, temperatures as low as 57 degrees can become deadly in minutes. Even on mild or cloudy days, temperatures inside vehicles can reach life-threatening levels. Leaving windows slightly open does not help. A child’s temperature heats up 3 to 5 times faster than that of an adult. Heat stroke can be deadly.

Warning signs vary, but may include:

  • Red, hot, and moist or dry skin
  • No sweating
  • A strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse
  • A throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Being grouchy or acting strangely

Let’s not cook our passengers. Parents and caregivers should stick to a routine and avoid distractions to reduce the risk of forgetting a child or pet. Place a purse, briefcase, or backpack in the backseat to force you to take one last look before walking away. Keep car doors locked so children cannot gain access and teach them that cars are not play areas. There is no safe amount of time to leave a child in a vehicle, even if you are just running a quick errand. Under no circumstances can you leave any person or pet in your car without air conditioning and the windows up, especially a child or older adult. If you absolutely must leave a kid or a pet in the car for a few minutes, leave the car running with the A/C on. It only takes a few minutes for the car to reach dangerous temperatures.


If you see a child alone in a locked car, get them out immediately and call 9-1-1.  A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.