Startling video shows adults locked in cars in summer heat

The latest social experiment viral video is busting parents for one of the most common parenting behaviors: leaving the kids in a hot car for “just a minute” as you run into the store for that jug of milk you forgot to get on the way home from work.

Every parent has been there before. When you think about the crazy balancing act that is modern parenting, it’s almost impossible not to think about leaving your kid in the car for even a minute as you run a package into the post office or dash into the craft store to get last-minute supplies for an art project.

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The Hot Car Challenge Social Experiment puts this common parenting move in perspective, posted by Kars4Kids to YouTube, with more than 1.6 million views and counting. Kars4Kids demonstrates what really happens when you leave a child in a hot car for just a few minutes by offering adult passersby $100 to take the 10-minute challenge.

The video is truly uncomfortable for any parent to watch. The adults sitting, fidgeting and eventually writhing in the hot back seat burst out of the car after the 10 minutes are up, exhausted, dehydrated and covered in sweat. “That was one of the worst things I’ve ever gone through in my life,” says one overheated man. “Once that door closed, almost immediately it gets very hot, and the airflow becomes almost oppressive.”

Thinking about a child left sweating in the back seat without the ability to call for help — and especially thinking about the poor children who have died in hot cars — is enough to make a parent’s stomach hurt. The hot car message is nothing new. As soon as hot weather hits, parents are flooded with a Facebook feed full of public service announcements and safety messages. Most parents know that a kid shouldn’t be left in a hot car for any amount of time, but already we have hot car death cropping up this year. USA Today estimates that, since 1998, an average of 38 children have died in hot cars each year. Even apps have been invented to help parents remember kids who may have been left in the back seat.

The real problem with leaving a child in a hot car for “just a minute” is that it’s hard to estimate how long it could take in the store, and there’s also the possibility that a parent could forget. This Hot Car Challenge does an effective job of shocking parents to get their attention, but there’s one important part of the story it doesn’t cover: Awareness is important, but parents still need to be educated on how to make their own decisions.

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Most hot car messages, including this video, tell parents to never even think about leaving a child in a vehicle for even a second. But what about the dad who leaves his sleeping baby in the back seat while he pays for gas on a cool summer night? No harm there. What about a mom juggling two toddlers, who leaves one child strapped in the car seat as she takes the other child into the babysitter’s house in the morning? The reality is, it’s almost impossible to expect a parent to never leave a child unattended in a car for more than a second. Parents need awareness, and they also need education. Parents need to know they are capable of making their own smart decisions when leaving their child in a vehicle.

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Living in fear of the hot car isn’t the answer — understanding the risk is. An educated parent knows how to calculate risk and take care of their kids. An educated parent would never leave their child in a hot car in the middle of the day.