TAMPA, Fla. — It may not officially be summer yet, but as Floridians know summer-like temperatures start early.
As it gets warmer, it's important to remember that your vehicle heats up fast. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature inside a vehicle will reach 100 degrees in 25 minutes when the outside temperature is just 73 degrees.
Hot cars and children
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said a child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than adults. When left in a hot car, NHTSA said a child can die within just minutes.
According to KidsandCars.org, more than 1,000 children 14 and under died from heatstroke after being left in hot cars between 1990 and 2021.
Florida ranks second when it comes to the number of hot car deaths involving children, with 107 fatalities between 1992 and 2021.
According to KidsandCars, 87% of children who have died in a hot car were 3-years-old and younger, and 54% of heatstroke deaths in vehicles involve kids 1-year-old and younger.
KidsandCars said in 56% of child hot car deaths, the child was unknowingly left by a parent. In 26% of those deaths, the child gained access to the vehicle on their own, and in 15% the child was knowingly left.
So far in 2022, NoHeatStroke.org said two children have died from heatstroke.
Hot cars and pets
Hot cars aren't just dangerous for children. According to The Zebra, 78 pets suffered heatstroke and died in a hot car between 2018-2019.
The National Weather Service said animals can die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes.
In Clearwater, police said a man was arrested on Sunday and charged with animal cruelty after he left his dog in a hot car while it was 93 degrees outside. Police said the back windows were halfway down and there was water in the car but the dog was in distress when it was found.
According to KidsandCars, the inside of a car heats up very quickly and even if the windows are cracked, the temperature can reach 125 degrees in just minutes. The nonprofit said 80% of the increase in the vehicle's inside temperature happens in the first 10 minutes.
The nonprofit also said cracking the windows doesn't help slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature.
So, what can you do if you see a child, animal or vulnerable adult locked in a hot car?
Safety tips and Florida law
According to a 2016 law, a person in Florida that uses force to enter a vehicle to remove a vulnerable person or domestic animal is immune from civil liability for damage to the vehicle.
The law says the person is immune if they:
- Determine the motor vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the vulnerable person or domestic animal to exit the motor vehicle without assistance
- Has a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon the known circumstances, that entry into the motor vehicle is necessary because the vulnerable person or domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm
- Ensures that law enforcement is notified or 911 called before entering the motor vehicle or immediately thereafter
- Uses no more force to enter the motor vehicle and remove the vulnerable person or domestic animal than is necessary
- Remains with the vulnerable person or domestic animal in a safe location, in reasonable proximity to the motor vehicle, until law enforcement or other first responder arrives
KidsandCars offers the following heatstroke facts and safety tips:
- Make sure your child is never left alone in a car:
- Place the child’s diaper bag or item in the front passenger seat as a visual cue that the child is with you.
- Make it a habit of opening the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind. To enforce this habit, place an item that you can’t start your day without in the back seat (employee badge, laptop, phone, handbag, etc.)
- Ask your childcare provider to call you right away if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
- Clearly announce and confirm who is getting each child out of the vehicle. Miscommunication can lead to thinking someone else removed the child.
- Make sure children cannot get into a parked car:
- Keep vehicles locked at all times, especially in the garage or driveway. Ask neighbors and visitors to do the same.
- Never leave car keys within reach of children.
- Use childproofing knob covers and door alarms to prevent children from exiting your home unnoticed.
- Teach children to honk the horn or turn on hazard lights if they become stuck inside a car.
- If a child is missing, immediately check the inside, floorboards and trunk of all vehicles in the area carefully, even if they’re locked.
- Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
- If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
- Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays. This is when many tragedies occur.
- Use drive-thru services when available (restaurant, bank, pharmacy, dry cleaner) and pay for gas at the pump