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Hot car safety tips

Summer is here, and you’re already looking forward to travel and vacation plans. You’ll be on the go, and your loved ones will be with you.

Summer heat, however, adds an extra layer of complications. As the temperatures rise, so do risks to your family and pets — especially as they relate to excursions in the family car.

Here’s everything you need to know about the risks of hot cars as well as safety tips for avoiding these situations altogether.

Temperature spikes in a matter of minutes

You know parked cars get hot, but what you might not realize is that a car’s interior temperature can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. Leaving the windows cracked or rolled down does not slow heat acceleration, nor does it cool the interior, especially on wind-free days.

Sun exposure on a parked car has the same effect, even in mild outdoor temperatures. Never leave a child or a pet closed up in a parked car on a sunny day, even just for a minute!

Children and pets feel hot temperatures differently

Your dog does not feel the heat as you do. His body is designed to conserve heat. A dog’s sweat glands are located on the pads of his feet and nose, and they are inadequate for cooling your dog’s total body mass on hot days.

The only innate cooling mechanism your dog has is panting. If a dog breathes in hot air, especially if he is panting, it doesn’t take long for brain and organ damage to occur due to heat stroke.

A child’s body can heat three to five times more quickly than that of an adult. Children also possess fewer sweat glands than adults and can’t adapt quickly to an increase of temperature. A body temperature of 107 degrees is lethal.

The danger of operating on autopilot

Stressed, sleep-deprived and distracted parents are more likely to rely on the part of the brain that stores habit formation. This is known as procedural memory, or your basic autopilot function.

When you are on autopilot, you are forgetful and reactive rather than proactive and sharp. In the scenario of hot cars, this can quickly turn fatal. An average of 37 children die in hot cars every year.

What can you do to mitigate these risks?

While it’s important to be mindful of and understand these risks a hot car can present, you don’t need to panic. There are some easy safeguards you can employ to help make sure your summertime excursions don’t turn into a tragic statistic:

  1. Put something you’ll need in the back seat

After loading your family into the car, place an object you’ll need on arrival in the back — perhaps your wallet, purse, or cell phone. Even on autopilot, a thorough car check after parking is guaranteed with this method.

If you have an infant, you know that rear-facing car seats can be tricky to monitor, especially if the child is sleeping. Try using a stuffed animal as a placeholder. When you secure your baby in the seat, bring the stuffed animal with you up front as a reminder.

  1. Store keys out of reach of little hands

Not to be underestimated is a child’s visceral capacity to play grown-up or to hide. Keep car keys secure in a high location, well away from little hands. You do not want your children entering your vehicle for any reason without your knowledge.

  1. Keep the cool air running

When running around with the gang on hot days, consider using the drive-through for services such as banking and pharmacy pick-up. It might also be helpful to rearrange your schedule so you aren’t out during the hottest part of the day.

You could also buddy up, if possible, so one adult is always available to watch pets and children in your car while the air conditioner runs.

Whether you are hyper-vigilant or operating on autopilot, when it comes to hot cars, second-guessing is not an option. Plan, prepare and always err on the side of caution. After all, there’s nothing cooler than being safe.