It's nearly summertime in Texas and having a busy, hurried life or a shift in a routine can sometimes result in a child or a pet being overlooked and left unattended in a locked car. These unfortunate, forgetful situations can quickly turn fatal with temperatures in hot cars capable of rising 43 degrees in an hour.
So what can you do to prevent tragedies like hot car deaths from occurring and what should you do if you find a person or animal trapped in a hot vehicle?
Preventing Hot Car Deaths
News from around the state of Texas.
Earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission granted six waiver requests from manufactures and automakers to allow in-car radars that could alert a driver if a child is accidentally left unattended in a car. Until that technology is commonplace it's up to each of us to check and make sure our loved ones aren't being left behind in a life-threatening situation.
First, make a habit of looking in the back seat, every time, before walking away from the vehicle. Remember "look before you lock" or "Park. Look. Lock." to help remind yourself to simply look in the back seat and throughout the vehicle to make sure a child or pet isn't still in the vehicle. Others recommend putting a purse, phone or another essential item in the back seat next to the child's seat to increase the likelihood of seeing a child who otherwise might inadvertently be left behind.
If you're intentionally leaving a person or pet in an unattended car just for a few minutes, remember that it is illegal in Texas to leave a child younger than 7 unattended in a vehicle for more than five minutes. Also, remember that cracking a window or opening a sunroof offers little relief to humans or pets. If you have any doubt, roll up the windows, turn off the car and see how many minutes pass before you are uncomfortable and are ready to get out of the vehicle.
Texas also has no specific laws against leaving pets unattended in cars, but people have been charged with cruelty to a non-livestock animal in cases where unattended animals were injured.
Hot car deaths don't just happen when a child is forgotten. They also happen when children get into unlocked cars without an adult knowing and then they struggle to get out. Always keep your car doors locked and don't allow children to play in unattended vehicles.
What if You Find a Person or Animal in a Hot Car?
If you see a child, senior, or pet alone in a hot car, get involved and call 911.
If the person or pet is conscious, you could also reach out to nearby shops to see if they could page the owner.
If the person or pet is not conscious or is showing signs of distress, you may need to find a way into the car to provide first aid. Calling 911, however, should be your first action.
Be aware that while there are no criminal penalties for a good Samaritan who breaks a window to provide first aid, the vehicle owner could have a civil case for restitution for property damage.
Hot Car Dangers
What is it about a hot car that makes them so dangerous? In short, hyperthermia, or heat stroke -- the condition where a person's body gets so hot it can no longer cool itself.
Heat strokes are the number one cause of death for children in non-crash vehicle-related deaths, according to The Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas, unfortunately, leads the nation in hot car deaths through nearly every state has experienced one of these deaths since 1998. In 2018 and 2019 the U.S had a record-breaking 53 deaths each year.
Heat strokes in hot cars can occur in any month of the year, though with hotter temperatures in the summer cars can heat up more quickly.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult does and that organ failure can begin once the body reaches 104 degrees. Children and the elderly can overheat in minutes and a core temperature of 107 degrees can be fatal.
Here are a few more facts on the dangers of hot cars.
- Cars heat up quickly. In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees.
- Cracking a window or air conditioning does little to keep the car cool once it is turned off.
- Texas leads the nation in hot car deaths among children.
Many large organizations and businesses recognize the danger of this. #HotCarsKill is a campaign that has Kids and Car safety partnering up with PETA to save both human and animal lives. Since last year PETA has recorded at least 32 pet deaths from heat-related causes. #HotCarsKill is a hashtag that these companies are hoping to start trending on so that people can be aware of the dangers of hot cars.
Walmart is also working to remind people about the danger of leaving children and pets in hot cars. Being one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S, Walmart has started to air a PSA every few minutes reminding its customers to check if they are forgetting a child or pet in the vehicle.
Remember that a car can heat up to 109 degrees in just 10 minutes with outside temperatures in the low 90s. If you’re ever in a situation where you or someone else has left a child in a car call 911 immediately to get help.
You can also visit the Texas Department of State Health Services for more information on heatstroke caused by hot cars.