July 15, 2001 11:00 pm

How fast will the temperature rise in a parked car?

If its 93 degrees outside, and with a window cracked, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 125 degrees in 20 minutes and 140 degrees in 40 minutes, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign.

Thats too hot for a human or a pet to survive. People who are inclined to leave their child or a pet inside a vehicle this time of year, even if its only for a minute, need to keep in mind that the interior of a parked vehicle is like an oven. It can and does kill.

Parents never should leave a child inside an unattended vehicle, whether its hot or cold outside. But doing so when the weathers hot is inviting disaster. And forgetting that a child is in a car is simply inexcusable.

At least three children have died from being left in or climbing into vehicles this past week in the United States.

On Wednesday, a 3-year-old Dallas boy died after he accidentally shut himself in the familys parked sport utility vehicle for about 20 minutes. The temperature outside was about 100 degrees. Officials estimate the temperature inside could have reached as high as 150 degrees. He was the third child in North Texas to have died in hot cars this year.

Also on Wednesday, a 6-month-old Mooresville, N.C., boy died after being left in a parked car for nearly six hours. His dad said he thought hed dropped his son off at child care.

Tuesday in Minneapolis, a 4-month-old boy was found dead in his familys minivan. The boy had been left in the vehicle for about eight hours. His dad told police that he forgot to drop the child off at day care and didnt realize the baby was in the car.

Parents need to take every precaution they can to make sure their children dont have access to parked cars. They need to stress to their kids never to play in parked cars. And they must make sure they check to make sure they havent forgotten their children in the car. And the same goes for pets.

The quickness with which cars heat up might seem unbelievable. Whats a minute or two? When it comes to heat building up in parked vehicles, a minute or two can mean the difference between life and death.

The National Safe Kids Campaign and General Motors say that in the past five years at least 120 children have died in hot vehicles. Every one of the deaths could have been prevented if parents had been more careful.

Parents need to get into the habit of never leaving their child in a car, whether its hot or cold outside or even if its only for a minute.

Leaving kids or pets in cars on a hot day is inexcusable. And we all need to realize it.