Editorials, Opinion

Not safe to leave kids, pets in cars, even for ‘a minute’

As we start to see temperatures climb consistently into the mid- to upper-80s (with today expected to be a scorching 93-ish degrees), this is a PSA to parents of human and fur babies not to leave kids and pets unattended in the car.

We’re sympathetic to the stress and hassle of traveling with babies, little kids and/or pets.  And it’s just for a minute. You’ll be in and out before anyone can even notice there’s still someone in the car. Right?

Except “just a minute” is rarely one minute or less. Often, it stretches into several minutes, and it only takes a couple minutes on a hot day for the interior of your car to reach deadly temperatures. According to a chart from the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, 70 degrees outside means 89 inside the car after 10 minutes and 113 after an hour; 95 degrees outside means 114 inside after 10 minutes and 138 after an hour.

The bottom line is you should never leave your child alone in the car. On average, more than 30 children under the age of 15 die every year from car-related heatstroke. A cranky baby awakened from its nap is better than a dead baby. If an older child insists in staying in the car, then you should be close by, they should be in your sights at all times and the AC should be running or the windows rolled down.

This is the time of year we’ll start to see national headlines about young children and infants who were left in the car and died. Usually when this happens, the caregiver is on autopilot and the child is so quiet, the driver forgets the kid is in the back seat. Front-facing car seats should be positioned where you can see them — i.e. diagonal from the driver so they can be seen in the rearview mirror. If you can see the child, you’re less likely to forget them.

Since that doesn’t really work for rear-facing car seats for infants and toddlers, caregivers will need to find a way to remember their baby is in the car. There are a variety of alarm and monitoring systems — everything from cameras to seatbelt sensors — available at a variety of prices, but all have the same goal: To alert you if your child has been left in their seat.

As for pets, taking them out of the car and into the store/business/public building/etc. isn’t always an option. If something happens and you have to leave your dog or cat in the car, there are a few things you can do.

 Roll down the windows. On a moderately hot day, this is OK. On an extremely hot day, not so much. Even with the windows down, the car’s interior will still get warmer than the outside temp. One 2005 study showed that even with the windows open to eight inches, cars will still heat up by 3.1 degrees per minute (as compared to 3.4 degrees with the windows closed). It would also be a good idea to leave water out for your pet so they can stay hydrated.

 Leave the car running and the AC on. This is ideal, because it keeps the car’s interior at a controlled, safe temperature. If you’re someone who routinely takes your dog with you, consider hanging a sign in your car window that lets passersby know the AC is running and your dog is safe.

Conversely, if you’re a passerby and notice a dog in a car, check for such a sign and if the car is running before smashing a window. If the windows are up and the car is not running, contact the authorities and follow their instructions.

Stay cool and safe out there.