I made it to the 50-minute point before I thought I was going to throw up.
Not bad, actually, when you consider I was sitting in a car in the middle of a parking lot, the outdoor temperature a breezy 26 C (79 F) while the air surrounding me had reached 50 C (122 F).
If you leave your child or pet in a car in hot weather, they could die. Fast.
There are two scenarios to this topic, and each is different. The first is people who have absentmindedly left their child in a car, usually after a change in morning routine, to catastrophic effect. Every single person who swears this could never happen to them needs to read at The Washington Post. Yes, it could happen to you. Science explains how.
This tragic occurrence — a parent not realizing they’ve left a child behind — is vastly different from those who knowingly do so. I decided to give a voice to your dog, the one you just told “I’ll be right back,” and to your kid who — finally — fell asleep after crying and fussing for so long. Who wants to wake him? What’s the harm in a few minutes? And what of all the vigilante nonsense we hear, people wanting to smash windows when it’s obvious you’ll be charged, or worse, beat up? It’s harder than it looks to smash a window, and you sure don’t want to risk showering glass on the thing you’re trying to save.
Within 10 minutes, the interior thermometer in the car had already jacked up to 31 C (87 F). OK, I was a little surprised at how fast that happened. But I chalked it up to being spoiled for years by air conditioning. Everyone knows what that blast of hot air feels like when you first get into your car in summer, but, oh, how quickly it dissipates when you flip a switch. No flipping today.
What is merely “uncomfortable” for an adult can in fact be dangerous for a child; kids heat up three to five times faster. If that child is upset or terrified, the number ramps up even more. Dogs can only cool themselves by panting and sweating through their paws. Your 10 minutes does not equal their 10 minutes.
Your closed car is not a shelter from the heat. Black interiors along with all that glass trap air, heat it up and reflect it. It’s a very efficient oven, and cracking a window open a couple of inches is about as effective at cooling it off as opening your oven door an inch. It doesn’t do much to bring the internal temperature down.
By the 20-minute point, I became aware that I had given up on moving. At all. Every exertion just made me more uncomfortable, and it was easier just to sit there. Think about that: your dog is not just sitting there at this point; he is jumping around trying to get out. Every exertion makes his body less able to cope with the heat. Your child would be sobbing by now. If trapped in a child seat, he would be struggling to get out. My temperature, which had started out a normal 38.6 C (98 F), had already risen one degree Celsius and not only had I not exerted myself at all, I was doing this intentionally. I knew what was happening.
By 30 minutes, I was lightheaded. My videographer, Clayton Seams, knocked on the glass and asked if I wanted to kill the experiment. I’d been watching him setting up cameras, his shirt blowing in the steady breeze coming off Lake Ontario. No. I’d been hotter than this, right?
By 40 minutes, sweat was running down both arms. I couldn’t hold a pen anymore. My personal temperature had risen another degree Celsius. A headache was starting that is still thudding as I write this, four hours after we’d finished. I had water with me, and Clayton motioned for me to take a swig. Oh, yeah. Do something sensible. It reminded me of being at high altitude where your brain craps out, and you wonder why people don’t just use common sense. At this temperature, common sense starts to get murky.
By 50 minutes, I am very much staring at the clock, my own twisted New Year’s countdown. The thermometer has synched up with the time: 50 C (122 F). I wanted to open the door. I wanted a shower. I wanted to prove how easily you could overlook something that can become deadly in a matter of minutes.
Police will tell you to never leave your child unattended in a vehicle, period. People argue their nine-year-old is perfectly fine for 15 minutes. Nothing is perfectly fine locked in a car in summer, even on overcast days. Unless that child has express permission to exit that car and can safely do so, it’s not fine. It’s not about your trust in your kid or your right to decide what is best. When the temperature has doubled in less than an hour, what more do you need to know?
Your cars should also be locked in your driveway so kids can’t play hide and seek in them. Leave your pets at home if they can’t come in with you at your destination. Never leave anyone alone in a car that he or she is unable to get out of on his or her own.
Police and insurance companies explain that I could be charged or held responsible for breaking a window to help a child or pet stuck in a hot car, and they suggest calling 911 if you see either in a car unattended over the summer months. You can take a picture of a licence plate if someone shows up and takes off yelling at you (a common response) and police can have a chat with them later.
At the 60-minute point, the internal temperature of the car was now 52 C (126 F). After today, I’ll tell you this for free: I’ll risk the charge. If I see your child or pet in a locked car, I’m breaking that window. Charge me.
This article was originally published in June of 2015, but considering the heat of this summer, it’s still worth a look.