Look before you lock: Six tips to prevent child and pet heatstroke

Just this year, more than 20 children across the United States died from heatstroke in unattended cars. In the past two decades, that tally has exceeded more than 700.  

It’s important to remember that children and pets are much more susceptible to heat than adults. Children’s body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, and a pet can go into heat stress in as little as 10 minutes on a hot day.

You pull up to the Post Office. Your little one is strapped in the backseat, soundly asleep, and you just need to hop in and out for a book of stamps. “It will only take a minute,” you think. You make sure the doors are locked and quickly head for the door. What is the worst that could happen?

Just this year, more than 20 children across the United States died from heatstroke in unattended cars. In the past two decades, that tally has exceeded more than 700.  

We all know it gets hot outside during the summer, but how can heat stroke happen so quickly?

Think about the weather here locally. The average August temperature in Kentucky is 88 degrees. A car sitting in that temperature can skyrocket past 100 degrees in a matter of only 10 minutes. That can quickly get uncomfortable – or dangerous – for anyone left inside.

Heat stroke sets in when a person’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees. At 107 degrees, internal organs begin to shut down. It’s important to remember that children and pets are much more susceptible to heat than adults. Children’s body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, and a pet can go into heat stress in as little as 10 minutes on a hot day. Not only are children and pets more vulnerable, they are also unable to escape, rendering them completely helpless as temperatures swell.

Though it might be hard to understand how something like this can happen, most parents who leave their children behind simply forgot. Work issues, everyday stressors and daily routines have the ability to distract anyone and everyone. 

The key to avoiding this kind of situation? Always look before you lock. Keep these six tips in mind to prevent a child or pet from experiencing heatstroke:

  • Never, ever leave a child or pet unattended in the back seat of a vehicle, no matter how quickly you think you will return. Two-thirds of heating occurs in the first 20 minutes of parking a car.
  • Even on a cool day, in-car temperatures can spike to life-threatening levels. A car can bake to 110 degrees on a mild 60-degree day. In fact, heat stroke can take place when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees.
  • Thinking of cracking a window or parking in the shade? Think again. Studies show that these actions do little, if anything, to sufficiently quell the rising temperatures. 
  • Leave an important item in the backseat with your child – like your cellphone or even a shoe. If you make it a habit to leave something you need in the back seat every time you buckle up your child, you will be giving yourself one more reason to check that area of the vehicle before you walk away.
  • Lock your car every time you exit the vehicle. Thirty percent of heat stroke deaths occur because the child got in a car without a caregiver knowing and couldn’t get back out.
  • Protect others! If you see a child or pet in a hot car, call for help immediately. In most cases, even waiting a few minutes could be detrimental. 

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