Despite years of public awareness campaigns, driver training and the passage of laws across the country, incidences of hot car deaths continues to increase. Last year saw a record number of deaths of people as well as animals, and officials fear that it may be shattered if predictions of a hot, long summer ring true this year. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Let’s have a quick review of how dangerous it can get inside a vehicle and what we can do to prevent these tragedies from occurring.
Energy from the sun penetrates windshields and windows, but the heat that is generated doesn’t escape. Consequently, air inside of a vehicle can easily be up to 30 degrees hotter than outside, and temperatures can reach life-threatening levels within 10 minutes after the vehicle is parked. It only takes a few minutes for the effects of heat exposure to kick in, and death can quickly follow.
There are reports of people being seriously-injured or killed after being in a locked vehicle with rolled up windows for less than 10 minutes. Heat exposure happens quickly, and the consequences can be immediate.
The leading cause of hot car deaths is inattentiveness. People simply forget that kids or pets are in the vehicle as they park and go about their business. It’s easy to criticize a parent or guardian for allowing themselves to be distracted, but the reality is that it could happen to any one of us. In fact, the majority of adults who have been charged are considered to be fine, upstanding citizens. One was even the director of a hospital that ran a top-tier vehicle death awareness campaign. Another was a police officer. Others were teachers, paramedics, accountants and lawyers.
It can happen to anyone of us, and that’s what makes these situations even more tragic.
What Can We Do?
Most states have passed good samaritan laws in order to protect people from liability if they decide to intervene. Some states have also passed laws that make it a duty to intervene if we become aware of people or animals trapped in hot cars. Become familiar with the laws in your state, and have a plan in the back of your mind about what you would do if you were faced with this type of situation.
The important thing to remember is that it’s better to act and be wrong than it is to do nothing.
Remember that time is of the essence when it comes to getting someone out of a hot car. While calling 911 and getting police and EMS personnel dispatched to the scene is important, it can take longer than 10 minutes for help to arrive. Consequently, we need to be prepared to act or enlist the help of others in order to err on the side of caution.
Once the vehicle has been opened, assess the victim. Provide them with fluids, get them in a cool location, and try to douse their skin with water or damp cloths. Be prepared to administer CPR or rescue breathing in a worst-case scenario.
As summer approaches, be more attentive when driving kids and pets around. Get in the habit of inspecting the vehicle before getting out, and keep your eyes open for problems in other vehicles as you walk through parking lots. These simple steps can prevent the vast majority of heat-related tragedies from occurring, and hopefully we can work together to prevent another record from being broken this summer.