What to do if you spot people, pets inside a deadly hot car

ST. GEORGE — There’s no time like the present hot days of Southern Utah to remind everyone how deadly hot the inside of a car can get – people and animals cannot survive in a hot vehicle for any length of time and a number of laws come into play, even concerning what an observer should do when they come upon a child or animal inside a hot car.

How hot is it inside that car?

A car left in the sun gets hot fast. Other than the roof and support pillars, the top half of a car is mostly glass, which allows sunlight to pass through freely. That light is absorbed by the seats, dash and other interior features and turns into heat.

Therein lies the problem: Heat cannot pass through glass easily, so it gets trapped in the vehicle and the temperature keeps rising.

The fastest temperature rise occurs within the first few minutes.  The first 10 minutes in a closed car can see a rise in temperature of up to 20 degrees, according to heatkills.org. The next 20 minutes, a rise in temperature of more than one degree per minute can be expected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that if it’s 100 degrees outside, the inside of a car could exceed 172 degrees, depending on the vehicle.

St. George Police Sgt. Craig Harding did an experiment last year.

I took a candy thermometer and put it on the seat of my patrol car,” Harding said. “I rolled up the windows and went inside the Police Department. I came out half an hour later and the temperature was over 175 degrees. The ambient temperature outside was in the high 90s.”

To put this in perspective, the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 degrees in 1913 in Death Valley, California. The record hot temperature in St. George was 118 degrees recorded in 2007.

What should you do?

If you see a child in a car when it’s really hot, Harding said the best thing to do is call 911.

“If the child looks like it’s in distress,” he said, “if it has a red appearance, sweating … you need to call 911 immediately. And, if so, we’ll come down, we’ll break the windows to get to that child.”

The same goes for animals left in cars. Harding said if you contact authorities, they will respond and take care of the situation.

“I was actually called down to a business here in St. George by the receptionist in the front office,” he said. “Apparently there was a car out in front of that business and it had two little boys in the car – they had their ties on, their hair was neatly combed, they were in seat belts. One was 3 or 4, one was 5 or 6, and they would not open the door for any strangers – they had been taught right.”

Harding responded to the scene and said the boys were sweating profusely and were beet red.

“I came down there, showed them my badge, told them that I was a police officer and convinced them to open the door for police,” Harding said. “You can tell, again, they had been taught appropriately.”

The boys’ father had left them in the car while he ran into the business to drop something off.

“He ended up getting distracted (and) talking to several people for more than 20 minutes,” Harding said.

Should you break the window?

If you see a child or pet left in a car in the heat, St. George Police Officer Lona Trombley said the first thing to do is call 911.

“Call in, talk to our dispatcher,” Trombley said. “Let them assess the situation. Sometimes it’s best to wait for the police to come there.”

There is a reason for this, Harding said. When you call 911 to report the child in the car, at the same time dispatchers are sending police, they will also send an ambulance. That saves valuable time to get aid to that child.

Trombley said you would not be charged with a crime for breaking the window if you sincerely felt the child was in danger.

“… You would not be charged,” Trombley said, “especially in an event where the child is obviously under distress or their face is red, they’re sweating profusely and crying, or if you’re knocking on that window and the child … is not responding.”

Harding said a driver could face charges of child abuse or child endangerment or animal cruelty under Utah law if a child or pet is left in the car.

Leaving the car running with the windows up and the air conditioning on is no better, Harding said.

“Many times the child will get out of the seat belt and go up to the front. (They will) do just what they’ve seen dad do and that’s pull on that lever; then pretty soon they put it in reverse and they may even try and get out of the car while it’s rolling backwards. One child did, and he pushed a sack of groceries out that got ran over by the front tire – luckily it wasn’t that child.”

Utah law prohibits leaving a child in a running car unless that child is supervised by another person at least 9 years old.

Harding said it is illegal to leave your car without setting the brake, putting it in park and taking the keys (Utah Code 41-6a-1403).

“If it’s important enough to go in, take your kids with you,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


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  • Chris June 5, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Once the child or pet is rescued safely, is it okay to slap the *&%$ out of the offendin’ adult? Seems to me this should be an area of instruction and questionin’ on the state’s Driver’s License Test.

  • Real Life June 5, 2016 at 9:59 am

    What to do if you spot a child in a hot car? Well here in Southern Utah you throw them a fundraiser, of course.

    • ladybugavenger June 5, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Bingo! #fundraiser

  • youcandoit June 5, 2016 at 10:27 am

    If it’s against the law, then why do they pick and choose who gets charged, for instance the couple in Hurricane just because they got their bishop involved, I don’t ask what religion you are before I help someone, I’m sure Jesus didn’t do that either.

  • hiker75 June 5, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    So, was the adult fined? I think it is time to throw the book at people who leave a child in a car unattended anytime and pets during hot weather. Make them pay heavy fines and start publicizing it. No more slaps on the wrist. That is when adults will take it seriously. What are we waiting for? Another death?

  • .... June 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    #[email protected]

    • Real Life June 5, 2016 at 8:12 pm


      • Bob June 6, 2016 at 3:20 pm

        maybe it already happened. heat stroke can cause brain damage

  • Bob June 5, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    u know it really could happen to anyone. it would be so hard to get over the guilt of such a slip up if your kid died like this

  • Bob June 5, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    also know it’s very difficult to break a car window with a blunt object. even a hammer can be very difficult. ideally you will have a heavy object with a point. a jack or tire iron could work but might be difficult.

    • Ron June 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

      A ball peen hammer works excellent, at least the ball end of one does very well.

      Ask the three different dogs I have rescued from the hot cars in the Costco parking lot. And the owners were indeed cited.
      I went home and slept like a baby that night.

  • Bob June 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    might be easier to break thru the windshield than a side window

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