During the hot summer months, if you can’t take the children inside, leave them at home.
North Carolina is ranked sixth in the nation for deaths of children who were left in parked cars, according to kidsandcars.org. An estimated 37 die every year nationwide, while 33 have died in North Carolina from 1991 through 2017 (the national number during the same period: 837).
Meanwhile, hundreds of pets, stranded in cars while their owners shop or dine, die of heat stroke every year nationwide.
Children aren’t often left intentionally in cars, but even the best parents, when distracted, can forget and leave them, or an unattended child may climb inside. As evidenced by the death of a 7-month old infant in Raleigh a week ago.
“The fact is that heatstroke tragedies happen to loving, caring parents,” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated in a “Heatstroke kills” website (https://www.nhtsa.gov/es/child-safety/heatstroke-kills).
David Diamond, PhD, is cited in an online article in Contemporary Pediatrics as saying, "There are quite a few parents who have learned of other parents leaving kids in cars, and they judge them very harshly. Those are the very same parents who then forgot their kids and their kids die... So, no one is immune from making this memory error. I tell people, if you're human and have ever forgotten anything, then... you can forget a child in a car."
Car temperatures skyrocket when setting on an asphalt parking lot in the sun – or even in the shade. The Sun Journal placed a thermometer in a car part way through the day Tuesday, when the overall temperature was 90. The car had baked to over 120.
And, according to the same website, “If a child’s body temperature reaches 107, the child dies.”
Dogs have a higher body temperature than children, at 102 degrees, but they also have a particularly hard time dealing with the stress of heat. New Bern veterinarian Dr. Fred Knowles pointed out that dogs can’t dissipate heat as humans can by sweating – they pant, instead. “And, of course, they have fur coats on now.
“When your dog comes in from playing, in the evening, and it’s hot outside,” Knowles pointed out, “he lays on the kitchen floor and he has to pant for an hour to cool off, even though he’s in air conditioning.”
To get an idea of what your dog goes through, he said, “Put your winter coat on. Run around outside and play in the heat and come inside, but don’t take off the coat, and see how soon you cool down.”
Knowles said people are becoming more aware of heat issues. While he used to see heatstroke patients almost every week in summer, but last year he only dealt with one.
The American Veterinary Association has published a chart that shows how quickly temperatures can climb. Following is the typical climb of temperature in a car after 10, 20 and 30 minutes:
• 75 degrees: 94, 104 and 109 degrees.
• 80 degrees: 99, 109 and 114 degrees.
• 85 degrees: 104, 114 and 119 degrees.
• 90 degrees: 109, 119 and 124 degrees.
We did a less-than-scientific study at the Sun Journal on this. Namely, the reporter closed himself in his car in the back parking lot, armed with a timer and a thermometer. The temperature at the time was 85.
We cooled the car with the air conditioner, opened the side windows a crack, and turned off the motor.
Over 15 minutes’ time – the least time someone would be likely to dash into a store and back while their pet was in the car waiting – we tracked the rise in temperature.
As soon as the air was off, the temperature registered 90 degrees inside. Two and a half minutes it had risen to 93. In five minutes it had reached 100; in 10 it had climbs to 106 degrees. After 15 minutes, the thermometer read 109 degrees, a jump of almost 20.
As to pets, Knowles said you should never take them with you to a store or other place where they can’t be by your side. Parking in the shade or cracking the window doesn’t have any real effect on how hot the car will get, and even if you leave the air conditioner running something can go wrong. He recalled the New Bern police losing one of its police dogs a couple of years ago when the car malfunctioned and turned off, leaving the dog to die of heat stroke (police now have monitors that automatically alert them if the engine goes off while a dog is inside).
Children, obviously, are rarely left in a car intentionally.
The NHTSA gives the following suggestions to protect against a tragic accident:
• Get into the habit of always looking into the back seat before you lock your car and walk away.
• Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty and move it to the front seat as a reminder when your child is inside. Or place your phone, briefcase or purse in the backseat when traveling with your child.
• If someone else is driving your child, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely.
• Keep your vehicle locked and keys out of reach; nearly 3 in 10 heatstroke deaths happen when an unattended child gains access to a vehicle.
• If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911. If the child is in distress or is non-responsive, remove the child from the vehicle and spray the child with cool water.
Knowles said you find a dog or other pet in distress in a car, calling 911 is the best response. You can also ask the store manager to call for the owner of the car. “Don’t break the glass,” Knowles said. “Let the police do that, unless the dog has actually passed out on the seat.”
After 911 is called, remain by the car so responders can find it more quickly and, if the owners or parents come, do not get into a confrontation with them – it will only slow the rescuers down.