Hot cars pose risks for children, pets, elderly

by Kate Evans & Kate Shunney

As the hotter days of summer set in, residents are reminded to pay attention to the heat level in their vehicles.

A record number of 52 children died in hot cars last year. Child hot car deaths for 2019 now stands at 15, according to a National Safety Council report. The latest was a three-year old in Tennessee that apparently got inside a minivan without anyone realizing and became trapped.

The National Safety Council maintains that hot-car deaths are another form of distracted driving.

Temperatures reach life-threatening levels inside vehicles, even with the car windows left slightly open. Children should never be left unattended in a car or be able to get inside a vehicle.

Hancock Police Chief Rick Cook said his department has gotten calls about this issue, and he’s handled numerous such calls over his law enforcement career.

“The temperature inside a vehicle with no air conditioning running with all the windows up is more than ten times hotter than the outside temperature,” said Chief Cook. “The inside temperature rises quickly and can kill occupants inside the vehicle.”

Lethal temperatures

Don’t leave children, elderly adults, disabled individuals or pets unattended in a vehicle in the heat. Temperatures inside of a vehicle left in the direct sunlight can quickly climb to 110 to 125 degrees, even with the car windows partially rolled down. Heat stroke in a child occurs at about 104 degrees.

Chief Cook said a vehicle temperature can rise 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. Over the course of an hour, the temperature in a closed vehicle can spike up 43 degrees.

Safety officials suggest that people leave children and pets at home or take them inside during summer heat. Keep a stuffed animal on the front seat as a reminder that there is a child present in the car.

Look before locking

The National Safety Council recommends that parents and caregivers stick to a routine to decrease the risk of forgetting a child and leaving them in a vehicle. Put a purse, briefcase, cell phone or even a shoe in the back seat to remind you to check there one last time before walking away from your car.

Keep car doors locked so kids can’t get inside them and teach children that cars aren’t play areas.


Pets should never be left in a vehicle in the sun.

Dogs with obesity and previous medical conditions are at a higher risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Puppies, elderly dogs and dogs with dark-colored coats or long-haired coats are more susceptible to overheating and heat exhaustion along with flat-faced dogs like bulldogs or pugs.

Signs of an animal being in distress from heat are drooling, panting, restlessness, agitation, weakness, disorientation, lack of balance, elevated heart rate and labored breathing.

In an emergency

Chief Cook said his department will quickly respond to any reports of a child or elderly person locked in a vehicle.

“We will gain access into the vehicle the fastest way we can,” he said.

“If we respond to any heat-related call, we will break out the window to get air to the occupants, and if there is any criminal intent they will be charged,” said Cook.

The Hancock Police Department can be reached directly at 301-678-5622. In an emergency, call 911.