A major area of concern at this time of year is the fast rate at which a car can heat up to an unbearable temperature. Every year you are likely to see a national news item about a child who has died after being left alone in a car on a warm day. In fact, our country has averaged 37 child deaths a year from heat exposure in vehicles since 1998. Even though our weather on the Olympic Peninsula is less extreme than in some parts of the country, that does not mean it couldn’t happen here. We may assume that because a day seems relatively cool out, that our kids and pets are safe locked in the car – think again. Even at 73°, on a sunny day the temperature inside a car can reach 120° in 30 minutes; on a 90° day that figure can rise to 160°.
The state of Washington is one of 19 states in the country that has a law that specifically addresses leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle. It is a misdemeanor offense to leave any child under 16 unattended in a motor vehicle with the engine running. While this doesn’t really address the question of heat exposure, it’s a good start and a reminder to exercise care.
Those most at risk for heat related problems are kids and dogs — both for similar reasons. Kids, particularly infants and young children, are not in the position to cool themselves by opening windows or taking off clothes. Dogs cool their bodies through their paw pads and through their tongues by panting. When the heat in a closed vehicle goes up there is little opportunity for the body to cool. It takes surprisingly little time for damage to be done.
So far as children are concerned, the standing rule ought to be never leave a child alone in a parked car. Animals are different problems because they may not be welcome everywhere you are going. It may involve selecting a restaurant with a drive-through rather than taking a few minutes out to sit inside. If you have to leave an animal unattended, be sure to crack a few windows to help slow any heat buildup and park in the shade if possible. These aren’t fail-safe remedies, but they may help.
It may be difficult to consider getting yourself involved in someone else’s business. However, when you see a closed car and a child or an animal in distress, there really is not much time to act. Calling 911 or animal control is an appropriate response to what is potentially a very dangerous situation.