Fatal Mix: Children and Hot Cars

As the weather continues to heat up, remember children should never be left alone in a hot car.  This year alone, 21 children have died already because of hyperthermia (heat stroke) from being left in hot motor vehicles.  In 2010, overall, 49 children died from hyperthermia because they were left in hot cars, trucks, vans or SUV’s for whatever reason.  A recent study from the Department of Geosciences concluded that even on days with rather mild temperatures (70 degrees and up) children face the risk of hyperthermia if they are left inside of a vehicle.  Most car-related hyperthermia child deaths occur because either a child was “forgotten” by his or her caregiver, the child was playing in an unattended car or because the child was intentionally left in the car by an adult.

How does heatstroke or hyperthermia occur?

Heatstroke occurs when a person or child’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit and their thermoregulatory system is in turn overwhelmed.  A body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit is lethal due to damaged cells and the failing of internal organs.  A child’s thermoregulatory mechanism is not as well developed as an adults system as their body temperatures warm at a rate of up to five times faster than that of an adult. Preventable injuries to children are simply unacceptable.

How do vehicles retain heat?

The windows of a car are seemingly transparent to shortwave radiation transmitted from the sun, as they are not warmed a lot.  However, shortwave energy is absorbed by objects that it strikes, meaning that objects inside of the car are heated by this energy. Thus, for example, dashboards, steering wheels, car seats and seats can reach temperatures over 200 degrees Fahrenheit with relative ease. These structures then heat the air inside of the car through conduction and convection.  They also give off long wave radiation, which is very efficient at warming the air inside of an automobile.

Safety Recommendations and Precautions

It is imperative that a child is never left unattended in a hot vehicle, not even for a few minutes.  If you happen to see a child left unattended in a hot vehicle, report this serious incident to authorities immediately.  When unloading your own vehicle, make sure that all passengers exit the vehicle.  After using your vehicle, lock it to ensure that children cannot get back inside.  Similarly, teach children that the car is not a play place and make sure that all keys or remote entry devices are hidden from children.  Use common sense and remember that leaving a child in a hot car for just minutes at a time can result in death.

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