Unless all the windows are wide open, the inside of a car on a hot day is the wrong place for living beings. That’s the message organizations, health care professionals, police and social service agencies are urgently trying to get across.
It’s no longer unusual to hear of young children dying after being left in closed-up vehicles on hot days. Pets have suffered the same fate and even elderly people waiting in cars for adult children or caregivers to complete errands are ending up in heat-related distress.
Last year, nearly three dozen children across the U.S. perished this way. In a closed vehicle–or even one with windows only partially open–the inside temperature can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, and the bodies of children, the elderly and small pets heat up more quickly than a healthy adult’s.
Just last week in Newark, a passerby alerted police about a toddler in the back seat of an unattended car. Across the region, and around the country, police are getting involved when alerted to a child left in the car intentionally.
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reminds us that usually the child has been left in the car by mistake; something that happens across all segments of the population, even to intelligent and organized individuals with solid parenting experience.
A few years ago, I remember watching Oprah interview a responsible professional woman, an experienced mother, who drove to work and a few hours later a coworker noticed the woman’s baby strapped in the back seat of her car; it was too late. That morning, the woman and her husband had switched routines, and she was supposed to drop the child off at the sitter’s instead of the husband, something she rarely did.
Expert say that such changes in routine, as well as multi-tasking, distractions (like being on a cell phone), a sleeping quiet child, or rushing to get somewhere on time are all factors that can derail even the most conscientious parent. The NHTSA’s Look Before you Lock initiative is urging anyone who drives with young children to take extra steps when the temperatures are high: among other practical tips, they suggest leaving something you need in the back seat beyond reach so you’ll have to open the back door before leaving the vehicle. More information and tips can be found at Parents Central.
The New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently issued reminders, and in New Jersey a law prohibits leaving animals in closed vehicles in severe weather. PAWS offers some tips on what to do if you find an animal confined in a hot car.