Hot vehicle deaths for children and pets are not limited to summer. Volumes of people question their sanity for ever having children or owning pets, but a lucid and sensible person wouldn’t consider putting them in a hot oven. The outside ambient temperatures are rapidly increasing, and people who care for children or pets need to rapidly increase their effort to protect them.
Even with a slightly opened window, the sun can effectively heat air trapped inside a vehicle causing interior temperatures to quickly reach dangerous levels. Georgia doesn’t have a specific law regarding children left in an unattended car, but violators can still be prosecuted. A different state’s law says that children younger than 7 can’t be left in an unattended car unless they’re supervised by someone age 14 or older. That particular law didn’t address pets.
When the sun shines, the interior temperature of a vehicle can reach 180 to over 200 degrees. In the short time it takes to run into a store for one item, a vehicle can become too hot for some living beings to survive.
When the ambient Texas temperature was only 78 degrees, a 4-year-old boy wasn’t noticed when he snuck into a vehicle this past April. He was the first child heat-related death of 2020. Thirty percent of this type of children’s deaths are attributed to them playing in unattended vehicles.
Over 800 children have died in hot vehicles since 1998 and the numbers have been climbing steadily since 2016. Studies show that this type of death can occur when outside temperatures are as low as 70 degrees. Even at that mild temperature, vehicles can heat up to 100 degrees in 10 minutes.
Small children and infants are more sensitive to extreme heat. Their bodies aren’t as effective at regulating body temperature as adults, and their body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster.
Some people joke about having “old-timers” disease, but even a sharp mind can become distracted and forget a quiet child or pet in a car’s back seat. To help thwart forgetfulness, it’s a good idea to put a reminder in a child’s car seat. When the child is put in the car seat, the reminder can be moved close to the driver. A reminder could be a note, a stuffed animal, or some type of toy. Another idea might be putting a reminder next to the child (or pet) that would be needed after leaving the car. This could be something like a briefcase, pocketbook, wallet, or keys.
When people leave unattended cars running so the air conditioner can keep it cool, they may be thinking about the occupants, but they aren’t thinking about possible dangers. It’s easy for a child or pet to bump a gear selector and start a car rolling. It’s also a first-class opportunity for a predator to break a window and steal an occupant.
With today’s social distancing and parents working from home, new strategies need to be applied to prevent hot vehicle deaths. Social distancing might be a motivation for caregivers to leave children or pets in an unattended car.
When I worked in Tennessee, a citizen asked me to issue him a permit so he could leave his small dog in his vehicle. Even if I had been king, I wouldn’t have given him that type of permission. I always wondered if his brain got left on an out-of-town train.
Children as old as 14 have died after being left unattended in hot vehicles. A death due to such a pointless tragedy is undeniably preventable. A hot vehicle can parrot a microwave, hot skillet or even an Easy-Bake Oven. If it doesn’t extinguish life, it can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, permanent disability or damage to body organs.
Some establishments prohibit pets, and it’s a lot of trouble to lug a child around a store, but it’s playing Russian roulette when they’re left in an unattended vehicle. There are at least 800 reasons since 1998 that says saving a little effort isn’t worth gambling with a life. Leaving a child or pet unattended in a vehicle might be a crime, but it’s also a deadly game — a game that’s not required to be played.