Parents and caregivers also are cautioned about leaving cars unlocked during hot weather, as children sometimes go into them to play and can become overwhelmed by the heat. The temperatures outside do not need to reach the 90-degree mark to be dangerous.
“In our overly busy lives, there is nothing more important we can do than to take a moment to look before we lock our vehicles to be sure we do not leave a child behind in a car on a hot day,” said Terri Egan, DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner and GTSC Acting Chair. “We have all read news stories about parents accidentally leaving their children in the car with fatal consequences. We can avoid these tragic incidences by remembering to always look before you lock.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Association reports that 700 children died from being left in a hot car between 1998 and 2016. In 54 percent of cases, they were forgotten by a parent or caregiver. In 28 percent of cases, the children had gone into the car to play. In 2016, there were 39 heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles nationwide, a 63 percent increase from 2015.
In the span of 10 minutes, a car can heat up by 20 degrees, enough to kill a child left alone in a vehicle. Children are at a higher risk than adults of dying from heatstroke in a hot vehicle, especially when they are too young to alert others for help. When a child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, it is fatal.
A child should never be left in a vehicle unattended, even if you think you’ll only be away for a minute. Even 60-degree weather can prove fatal as a car, especially with all windows closed, can quickly heat up. Cracking a window does not provide sufficient relief.
NHTSA offers tips for parents on how they can remember to check for their children:
Always check the back seats of your vehicle before your lock it 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 visual reminder when your child is in the back seat. You can also place your briefcase, purse or cell phone in the back seat so that you have to look in the back before walking away from your car.
If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely.
Drivers should also always lock the car and leave the keys out of reach to discourage children from playing inside.
Anyone who sees a child alone in a locked car should not hesitate to call 911. “Good Samaritan” laws offer legal protection for those who offer assistance in an emergency. Don’t wait more than a few minutes for the driver to return.
If the child is not responsive or is in distress, immediately:
Get the child out of the car.
Spray the child with cool water (not in an ice bath).
If the child is responsive:
Stay with the child until help arrives.
Have someone else search for the driver or ask the facility to page them.
The warning signs of heatstroke include skin that is red, hot, and can be either moist or dry; no sweating; strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse; nausea; and confusion or strange behavior.
Pets too are vulnerable if left in an overheated car. The Humane Society of the United States notes that a pet can quickly suffer brain damage or die from heatstroke or suffocation.
The Humane Society says signs of heat stress include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting, or a deep red or purple tongue.
If your pet is overheated, move it to a cooler area and take these emergency steps:
Gradually lower body temperature by applying cool (not cold) water all over its body or soaking it in a cool bath.
Place cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin area. You may also wet the ear flaps and paws with cool water. Direct a fan on the wet areas to speed evaporative cooling.
You may offer fresh, cool water if your dog is alert and wants to drink. Do not force your pet to drink.
Take your pet immediately to a veterinarian—it could save its life. Call ahead, if possible, to be sure your veterinarian is available.
If you see an animal in a car exhibiting signs of heat stress, The Humane Society recommends calling your local animal care and control agency or police department immediately.