As temperatures exceed 100 degrees in Central Texas, the dangers associated with leaving a child or pet in a hot vehicle, even for a few moments, could turn deadly.
Wednesday, the Temple Daily Telegram partnered with Temple Fire & Rescue to raise awareness and prevent future tragedies with a hot car display in front of the Telegram office, 10 S. Third Street in downtown.
“The dangers of leaving pets and children in cars is serious,” explained Santos Soto, public information officer for Temple Fire & Rescue. “It can result in heat-related injury, and even death, if they are not found in time.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there have been 910 child hot car deaths since 1998, with an increase in the last few years. In 2018 and 2019, a record number – 53 – children lost their lives.
“The threshold for heat stroke in a child is a body temperature of 104 degrees,” Soto said. “Symptoms will worsen with longer heat exposure. Heat-related injuries could include profuse sweating, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, cramps, confusion/lethargy, unconsciousness, and in the most severe cases even death.”
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, when a child’s internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. A child’s smaller body also has difficulty regulating body temperature and can quickly heat up three to five times faster than an adult. When their internal temperature reaches 107 degrees, it could prove fatal.
Even with tinted windows on a 2016 Honda Odyssey the Telegram used for Wednesday’s display, the temperature inside the vehicle reached 115 degrees by 9 a.m. The internal temperature reached 173 degrees by 2 p.m. and then maxed out at 175 degrees at 4 p.m. Soto advised that vehicles with tinted windows actually offer 30% to 40% more protection than those without tinted windows.
“I was shocked and disgusted that the car was that hot inside,” he said.
Family pets can also be forgotten in hot vehicles, which made up 78 pet deaths between 2018-2019. Similar to a human child, when a pet has an internal temperature of 104 degrees, it is considered hyperthermic and could suffer from heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke in pets include heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breaking, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, salivation, vomiting, red or purple tongue, seizures and unconsciousness.
The Humane Society of the United States advises pet owners to consider their pet during the summer to avoid heat injuries.
-- Limit exercise on extremely hot days to early mornings or evenings.
-- Do not rely on a fan to cool off a pet because they cool differently than humans.
-- Provide shade and cold water.
-- Cool pet off with a cool soak.
-- Walk pets on the grass to avoid asphalt burn. Asphalt can reach 149 degrees in temperatures above 95 degrees.
Soto said people often wonder how these incidents could happen. Some of the most common reasons include a change in routine, such as a parent who normally doesn’t take the child to school or daycare forgets they had the child; stepping away from a “second,” such as talking to a neighbor too long, watching TV or tending to other children; or children climbing into an unlocked vehicle.
“Sometimes children play outside, and sometimes when doors are left unlocked, children play inside the vehicles, not realizing the danger. This is also dangerous if you keep the child locks on, on the doors. If they get in, now they are stuck in there,” Soto said. “As far as the parent or guardian goes, they may think the child is just happily playing outside, not realizing that they ever got into a vehicle.”
The state of Texas has the highest number of hot car fatalities, with 136 deaths since 1998. On Monday, a 5-year-old Houston boy was found unresponsive inside a vehicle. The mother said he normally unbuckles himself and she had assumed he followed her into the house while she prepared for his sister’s birthday party.
Soto recommended parents leave themselves a reminder, such as placing their cell phone, wallet or purse in the back seat. He said parents could also leave their child’s shoes in the front cup holder.
Hot car displays are important because they provide “real-time evidence of the heat extremes possible inside vehicles as temperatures begin to rise,” Soto said.