Study: Hot cars can hit deadly, oven-like temperatures in as little as one hour



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A new study finds that hot cars can become deadly in as little as an hour for children and pets trapped inside. USA TODAY

Dozens of small children who are alive now will be dead by the end of the summer, baked to death inside a hot car, if past years are any guide.

Now, a study published this week finds a car can become a lethal oven in just an hour when parked in the sun.

“We’ve all gone back to our cars on hot days and have been barely able to touch the steering wheel,” said study co-author Nancy Selover, a climatologist at Arizona State University. “But imagine what that would be like to a child trapped in a car seat.”

The study found if a car is parked in the sun on a summer day, the interior temperature can reach 116 degrees and the dashboard can exceed 165 degrees in about one hour — the time it can take for a young child trapped in a car to suffer fatal injuries.

Each year, on average, 37 children die horribly from complications of hyperthermia — when the body warms to above 104 degrees and cannot cool down. Already in 2018, seven children have died in tragedies from Texas to Virginia.

Overall, the grim total in the past 20 years is 749 deaths, according to meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services. More than 50% of cases of a child dying in a hot car involve a parent or caregiver who forgot the child in the vehicle.

In fact, he said that aside from crashes, heatstroke is the leading cause of death in vehicles for children 14 years old and younger.

Study lead author Jennifer Vanos, a biometeorologist from the University of California at San Diego said researchers found that a child’s body temperature could reach 104 degrees in less than two hours even in a car parked in the shade.

“This body temperature could be fatal to infants and children — and those who survive may sustain permanent neurological damage,” she said.

More: Dad left on a business trip not realizing his daughter was still in the back seat of his pickup

The new study compared how different types of cars warm up on hot days when exposed to different amounts of shade and sunlight for different periods of time.

Researchers used a single hour as their basic measure, seeing what temperatures would do to an average 2-year-old. Smaller cars tended to heat up faster than larger ones.

“Our study not only quantifies temperature differences inside vehicles parked in the shade and the sun, but it also makes clear that even parking a vehicle in the shade can be lethal to a small child,” Selover said.

July is usually the deadliest month for children in overheated cars, with the highest toll of 16 deaths in 1999, Null said. “The warmer months are the biggest variable, but in summer months people’s routines are changed, so that could be a contributor,” Null said. 

Null, who was not involved in the research, said the study was solid and appreciated anything that can raise awareness of this issue. 

Forgetting a child in the car can happen to anyone, said Arizona State University psychologist Gene Brewer.

“Often these stories involve a distracted parent,” said Brewer, who was not involved in the study. “Memory failures are remarkably powerful, and they happen to everyone. There is no difference between gender, class, personality, race or other traits. Functionally, there isn’t much of a difference between forgetting your keys and forgetting your child in the car.”

The study appeared in the journal Temperature

 

 

 

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