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Preventing heat-related deaths

Graph by Car Direct USA

By PJ Martin


The Herald-News


It seems that every year we hear the horrible news of a child left in a hot car with deadly consequences. Perhaps you ask yourself, “How could you forget your child?” It’s easier than you think with everyone busy running here and there. Or maybe you are breaking your normal routine and don’t normally take your child to daycare. Maybe your child starts playing in an unlocked vehicle and becomes trapped.

The Child Passenger Safety Board (, states that more than 35 kids die in hot cars every year in the US. Since 1998, more than 940+ children have died of vehicular heatstroke, because they were left or trapped in a hot car.

Another statistic not as widely publicized is disabled or incapacitated persons who were left in hot vehicles. Those statistics are not readily available, but it still happens.

It isn’t just humans that die of vehicular heatstroke, your pets can too. According to data from, in 2023 there have been 47 deaths and 103 rescues of pets left in hot vehicles and that is only the ones reported. The majority are believed to be unreported leading to much higher numbers.

Heatstroke can happen in just minutes, even with the car’s windows partially rolled down. And opening a window slightly won’t help. Parking in the shade or leaving water in the vehicle won’t prevent an animal from overheating, either.

How it overheats

No matter how hot the temperature is outside, it is going to be much, much hotter inside a vehicle. The sun emits energy in the form of shortwave radiation and that goes right through the glass windows. The inside materials (seats, dash, etc.) soak up that energy and then radiate it back in the form of longwave (infrared) radiation. This heats the air in the vehicle to dangerously hot levels. Even if the windows are slightly open, this process still heats up the interior, because longwave radiation cannot go through the glass as easily and the open section of a window releases less than what is radiating inside. Add to this high humidity of Kentucky and it becomes deadly very quickly.

Protecting children

When it comes to safeguarding children, it is best to stick to routines, because if you are usually the one to transport the child, you will be more likely to complete the routine. Sudden changes in routines can confuse and make it easier to forget you have your child with you.

Place an object such as a purse, cell phone, or briefcase in the back seat with your child. This forces you to access the back seat when getting out of the vehicle and interacting with your child. The National Safety Council even suggests placing your left shoe in the back seat as a reminder.

Keep your car doors locked so children cannot wander inside and become trapped. Teach children that playing in cars is dangerous.

Never leave a child, a disabled person, or an incapacitated person alone in a vehicle, not even for a few minutes.

Heatstroke symptoms to look for are lethargy, confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, seizures, hot dry skin, a very high body temperature, and a rapid heartbeat.

If the worst happens, call 911 immediately, remove their outer clothing, place ice packs on the victim’s forehead and neck, and move them to a cool place if possible. Stay with the person until medical help arrives.

Protecting animals

Animals are susceptible to heat strokes just like humans. As with children, the heat inside a car can be deadly. Humidity plays a crucial role in heat stroke in animals also.

As with children, leaving the windows down slightly does nothing to help with heat build-up. Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs and to take away heat from their body. If the humidity is too high, this doesn’t work well and animals of all types overheat quickly.

If a dog’s temperature gets over 104⁰ there is a problem, according to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

Animals that are at a higher rate of heatstroke are very old, very young, overweight animals, and breeds such as Boxers, Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and cats with shorter muzzles. Signs of heatstroke in animals are glazed-looking eyes, heavy panting, difficulty breathing, lack of coordination, salivating, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizures, or unconsciousness.

Never leave your dog, cat, or any other animal in a hot car. It’s like being baked alive! If the worst occurs, apply ice packs to the head and neck, pour cool water over the animal, and take them to the veterinarian immediately.

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