It only takes about one hour for a young child trapped inside a car on a hot day to suffer from heat injury or die from hyperthermia.
Deadly Temperature Inside Parked Cars
Findings of a new study now reveal that, in just an hour, the dashboard of a car parked under the heat of the sun on a hot summer day reaches as much as 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is hot enough to kill salmonella bacteria, fry eggs and cause third-degree burns.
Study researcher Nancy Selover, from Arizona State University, and colleagues compared how different types of cars heat up on hot days after getting exposed to varying amounts of shade and sunlight for different periods of time.
The researchers wanted to know how different temperatures would affect a two-year-old child left in the car on a hot day. They found that it takes as little as one hour for sun-exposed vehicles to reach deadly, oven-like temperature. They also found that cars parked in the shade can also be lethal to a small child.
The researchers found that interior temperatures of vehicles parked in the shade were closer to 100 degrees after one hour. The average temperature of dashboards was 118 degrees, that of the steering wheels was 107 degrees, and the seats were at 105 degrees after one hour.
For cars parked in the sun, the average cabin temperature heats up to 116 degrees in just an hour. The average temperature of dashboards was 157 degrees, that of the steering wheels was 127 degrees, and the seats were at 123 degrees in just an hour.
The researchers also found that different types of cars warmed up at different rates. Smaller cars tend to warm faster compared to mid-size sedans and minivans.
Preventing Hot Car Deaths
Children trapped inside hot cars are at risk for heatstroke and hyperthermia. Internal injuries from hyperthermia and heat stroke may start at temperatures below 104 degrees. Some of those who survived from heatstroke live with brain and organ damage.
Nonetheless, there are ways to prevent such incidents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not leaving a small child alone in a car, not for a minute and regardless if the air conditioning is on.
Cars should also be locked when no one is in it. Some hot car deaths occurred after children climb into unlocked vehicles. Children should also be taught not to treat cars as their play area. To avoid forgetting a child is with you, place something you can't leave without in the backseat. Parents should also be extra alert when something interrupts their routine, as these changes could trigger anyone to forget something as important as a child in the backseat. If you see a child alone in the backseat, call 911 as soon as possible.
"A child left in any vehicle car can experience potentially lethal core temperatures if forgotten, as shown by vehicular heat stroke statistics," the researchers wrote in the journal Temperature. "Findings may improve public messaging and reinforce the need for policy action and technological adoption to prevent injury and death."