The ugly heat and humidity of summer is starting to ramp up, and with it comes some silent risks. It’s a habit for many people to leave their children or pets in the car for just a minute so they can run errands. Do not leave your children or pets in a hot vehicle for any length of time, because they will die.
We often talk about the heat and humidity in terms of being outside for extended periods of time. The heat makes you sweat, and sweat evaporates from your skin to cool you off. When it’s muggy, the moisture in the air makes it harder for sweat to evaporate, making it harder for your body to cool off.
The metric we use to measure the heat and humidity together—the heat index—is a crucial component of heat safety. When the heat index is high, the elements takes a greater toll on your body, and you should take the cliché safety precautions to stay alive: spend limited time outdoors, drink plenty of water, and stay in the shade whenever possible. It’s relatively easy for most of us to stay safe when it’s excessively hot out, but it’s dangerous for the most vulnerable members of society: those with medical conditions, the elderly, and those who can’t afford conveniences like fans or air conditioning. The latter two groups are especially vulnerable because they often overlap.
Heat is a silent killer because it sneaks up on you with little notice if you ignore the signs. Most of us have the luxury of not thinking too much about the heat other than grumbling about being uncomfortable. If you run out for errands on an 85°F day—humid or not—it doesn’t feel all that bad to you. Throw the kids in the back seat, flip on the radio, and get on with your day. You get to the bank and think “I can leave little Suzie in the back seat for a few minutes. I only have to deposit this check.” You run in and there’s a line. You wait, and wait, and wait...and wait. The teller (Marge) is best friends with the lady at the front of the line (Estelle), who’s casually depositing 7,500 pennies while they gossip about the various hams they cook their husbands.
Meanwhile, even though it’s 85°F outside the confines of the bank, your car is getting hotter and hotter. Even if the windows are cracked, the temperature inside the car soars above 100°F in just ten minutes. The longer you stand in line or walk through the store or wait for your hamburgers, the vehicle’s interior will grow hotter and more lethal.
Children and pets can die in a hot car in just a couple of minutes. Never leave children and pets (or anyone, for that matter) unattended in a parked vehicle on a hot day, even with the windows rolled down. It doesn’t even have to be hot outside! Children have died in hot vehicles with outdoor air temperatures in the 60s. It’s the sun’s rays that warm the car through conduction, not necessarily the outside air temperature itself.
Vehicles heat up through the greenhouse effect (yes, that one)—the combination of heat from the exterior surfaces of the vehicle and sunlight entering through the windows can turn it into an oven unbelievably fast. Children, pets, and anyone who’s vulnerable to the heat can develop heat stroke within minutes, and even if you rescue them from the vehicle while they’re still alive, there’s no guarantee they’ll survive.
Do not leave children or pets in a hot vehicle.
It is illegal to leave minors unattended in a vehicle in 19 states regardless of the weather—hot, cold, plague of locusts, rain, snow, ice, whatever—and one state (Kentucky) has a law that allows officials to prosecute negligent caretakers (oxymoron) with second-degree manslaughter if they leave a child to die in a hot vehicle.
Do not leave children or pets in a hot vehicle. Don’t let children play in your car on a hot day. Don’t leave your keys lying around for the kid to get into the car.
It doesn’t matter if they just forgot the kid was there, if they were “just gonna be a minute,” if they left them in the car as punishment or just because they hate children. If a child dies in a hot car, regardless of whether or not it was intentional, whoever left them there will go jail for a very long time to sit in a small room and deal with the weight of their conscience.
Check the back seat. Check the trunk. Check anywhere a child or pet could possibly go. Make sure there are no living things remaining in your vehicle before you head off to do whatever, because they might not be alive by the time you come back.