How to avoid a summer tragedy in a hot car

General Motors has appealed to drivers to be aware of the temperature inside their vehicles after hyperthermia killed seven children in the US last week.

The vehicle manufacturer, one of the world's largest, joined forces with Safe Kids USA to issue guidelines and warn drivers that leaving unattended children in cars during the summer is deadly.

In the seven days from June 13-20, seven children were killed after being left in a hot car, taking the total number of US child deaths in vehicles due to heat this year to 17.

The majority of deaths (51 percent) are caused by children accidentally being left behind, with a further 30 percent being caused by children finding their way into a vehicle and being unable to escape and 18 percent caused by parents knowingly leaving their children unattended.

In many states in the US, it is illegal to leave a child in a vehicle unattended.

Hot cars are equally deadly for animals, with dogs left by owners at particular risk.

UK-based animal protection agency the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) estimates that even on a relatively cool day when the outside temperature may only be 22°C/72°F outside, sunshine causes the  temperature inside a car to soar to 47°C/117°F within 60 minutes.

GM says that it has looked at a range of technologies to alert parents, but that it is convinced that the issue is best addressed by education and awareness.

The dark dashboards, seats and steering wheels in vehicles are warmed by the sun and regularly reach temperatures of 82°C/180°F to 93°C/200°F,  heating the air around them and rapidly turning the car into an oven, even if windows are left open.

Tips for avoiding a summer tragedy
Tip from General Motors, Safe Kids USA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Kennel Club.

  • Call the emergency services if you see a child or an animal left unattended in a vehicle
  • Also tell nearby store owners or someone in a position of authority who may be able to help
  • Never leave a child or animal alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute
  • Set a reminder to drop children off at daycare
  • For animals, check that the destination is pet friendly so a dog doesn't have to be left alone
  • Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or whatever is to be carried from the car on the floor in front of the child in a back seat.  This forces the adult to open the back door and observe the child before leaving.
  • Check cars and trunks first if a child or animal goes missing