What to Do if You See a Kid Stuck in a Hot Car

Stephen Fogel
July 7, 2019

hot car kids

Parents spend a lot of time driving their kids around. They take them to school, play groups, doctor appointments, after-school activities and more. 

But what happens when mom or dad need to run in to pay for gas or to grab something quick from the store? If they get sidetracked or delayed, or just forget a child is asleep in the backseat, the consequences can be deadly.

Each year, an average of 38 children in the U.S. die from heat stroke, simply because they were left unattended in a car when it was hot out. There are a variety of reasons why this happens.  So what should you do if you see a kid locked in a hot car?

What happens to a child stuck in a hot car?

After you turn off the ignition and lock your car on a warm day (even if you’ve cracked the windows), the temperature inside your car increases at a very fast rate. Here are some stats, using a warm but tolerable outside temperature of 80°F as the starting point:

  • In 10 minutes, the temperature inside your car will be 100°F
  • In 20 minutes, the temperature inside your car will be 110°F
  • In 60 minutes, the temperature inside your car will be 120°F

And that’s just an average. If you have a dark-colored exterior or interior, and the sun is beating down, the temperature can rise even higher, and in much less time. The hotter it is outside, the higher the temperature will rise inside the vehicle. And if it’s humid, the effects are even worse.

On top of all that, a child’s body will heat up three to five times quicker than an adult’s. Children are not able to regulate their body temperature as well as an adult can, so their internal temperature increases at a rapid rate. Once that the child’s core body temperature goes past 104°F, heat stroke can occur. Symptoms include:

  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Agitation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

What can you do?

There is one simple step you can take, should you come across a child that is left unattended in a hot car: Call 911!

Tell the 911 operator where the vehicle is, and be sure to wait there until help arrives. The police or other first responders who will be dispatched have been trained to handle the situation.

In addition, if you have kids, don’t leave them in the car alone. Here are a few more helpful tips:

  • Make sure that your vehicle is unoccupied before you lock it
  • Never allow your child to play in a vehicle
  • Lock all your vehicles when they’re not in use
  • Keep your car keys in a secure place where kids can’t get to them
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the front seat with you, to remind you that a child is riding in the back 
  • If a child goes missing at your home, first check your swimming pool (if you have one), and then your car. Look in the trunk, not just the interior.

What does the law say?

What if you’re worried emergency responders won’t get there in time? If the child is unresponsive or showing signs of heat stroke, you may want to act fast. But keep in mind that breaking a car window could potentially land you in legal trouble, too. There are 21 states that have laws protecting Good Samaritans who rescue children that are left unattended:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.