This week’s warming temperatures may not seem like much of a heat wave, but it doesn’t take sweltering weather to create a danger for children or pets left in the car. Even when it’s 70 degrees outside, a car can become a deadly solar-powered oven in just minutes.
Last week, a toddler in New Jersey was found dead in a car and the temperature outside was 69 degrees, according to Ty Cordova, the Washington state spokesman for State Farm.
“Kids are especially vulnerable because their body temperature increases three to five times faster than adults’,” Cordova said. Since 1998, 801 children in the U.S. have died of pediatric vehicular heatstroke, including six this year, he said.
In Washington state, it’s illegal to leave a child or animal unattended in a parked car if heat, cold, lack of ventilation or lack of water could hurt them. Doing so can result in fines or, in some cases, criminal charges.
“Call 911 immediately if you see a child, or a pet, alone in an unattended vehicle,” Cordova said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, heatstroke in vehicles is the leading cause of all non-crash-related deaths involving children 14 and younger.
In about half those cases, parents had left children in the car and forgotten them, Cordova said.
“We tell people to put their cellphone or wallet in the back seat, because they might forget their kids but they won’t forget their cellphones, as sad as that is,” he said. “We also tell people to always look before they lock, and also to lock their cars so children cannot climb in.”
In one-quarter of the vehicular heatstroke deaths, children had climbed inside the cars themselves, but because the heat can cause disorientation, heat stroke and loss of consciousness, the children were unable to get out on their own.
Pets, especially some heat-intolerant dog breeds such as bulldogs and pugs, are just as vulnerable, Cordova said.
“Glass windows amplify the sun’s rays, and combined with a lack of air movement, (that) creates an oven — a giant, solar-powered oven,” he said. “The bottom line is that everybody is busy, everybody gets distracted, so do not leave kids or pets in the car, no matter how briefly, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Local meteorologist Ted Buehner said the angle of the sun at the beginning of May is the same as the angle in August, so while it may feel cooler now than it will feel during summer, the potential for heat buildup inside a car is the same.
A study by San Francisco State University found that in 70-degree weather, it takes just over 20 minutes for the inside of a car to top 100 degrees. Buehner said his research has shown it taking as little as 10 minutes.
Leaving windows cracked and a moon roof open barely makes a difference, he said.
If you don’t believe that, he said, “put yourself in there for 10 minutes and see how you do. The bottom line is, you cannot leave pets or children in the car when you run in for an errand. It will cook them, and we don’t want that.”
Temperatures in much of the Puget Sound area are expected to climb into the 80s the next few days due to an offshore flow that carries warmer air from the interior of the United States and Canada toward the coast, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“People think this is the kind of thing that only happens in Arizona, but they’re wrong. It can happen here,” Cordova said. “But it’s preventable.”