A deadly combo: heat, cars and kids
By Jan Null
As temperatures rise across the nation, sadly so do the number of children who die after being left inside hot vehicles. Already this year there have been 20 deaths of children in hot cars. And it does not have to be a blazing hot day in a southern state for these tragedies to take place as evidenced by the fact that, over the years, there have been deaths of children in hot vehicles in 46 states and with temperatures as cool as the upper 60s.
We have all heard about an isolated incident or two of a child dying in a hot car. However, when put into a nationwide context they constitute an epidemic; claiming an average of 37 young lives every year in the United States. Since 1998 over 465 infants and children have died horrible deaths due to hyperthermia inside hot vehicles. But you can help save some of these precious lives.
Keep reading for more on how to guard against these preventable deaths...
Over half of juvenile vehicular hyperthermia fatalities occur when a caregiver is somehow distracted and accidentally leaves a child in a vehicle. And in nearly half of these cases, the child was supposed to be dropped off at either childcare or preschool. These cases happen to parents, grandparents, siblings and childcare providers. It is often a matter of a change of routine, where one person normally is responsible for a child and on a given day another person forgets they have the responsibility that day.
The other categories of circumstances that lead to hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles are children playing in vehicles and children intentionally left in vehicles. In the former, which account for about 30% of the cases, children gain access to a vehicle and are subsequently overcome by the heat. And sadly in the latter instance that makes up about one-in-five of the deaths, children are intentionally left in vehicles by a caregiver who has to run an errand, get their hair done, go to bar or the casino, etc.
What is hyperthermia? In the simplest terms it describes heat-related illnesses when a body's temperature exceeds its normal range. If a body is subjected to extreme temperatures its ability to cool itself becomes overwhelmed. This is especially true for infants and children whose body's heat at a rate of three to five times faster than adults. When a human body temperature reaches 104 degrees (the clinical definition for heat stroke) its cooling system begins to shut down. A person with heat stroke may experience symptoms that include confusion, faintness, strong and rapid pulse, and possible delirium, hot dry skin or even unconsciousness. Continued exposure to very high temperatures can produce brain damage, and at 107 degrees cells within the body start to die and organs begin to shut down, quickly leading to death.
In the summer of 2002 a controlled study was conducted to quantify how hot enclosed vehicles get and how rapidly they can reach dangerous temperatures. This research was published in the journal Pediatrics and is maintained on line at http://ggweather.com/heat. The conclusions of the research were startling in how extreme the conditions inside a car can reach. Within the first 10 minutes a vehicle will warm to almost 20 degrees above the outside air temperature; after 30 minutes it is 34 degrees warmer and after an hour it plateaus as much as 45 to 50 degrees warmer than the air outside. Consequently, even on a mild 70-degree day temperatures can reach readings that can be fatal to an infant or small child. The research also found that "cracking" the windows had a negligible effect on the temperature.
It has become the "go to" article on the topic and is used worldwide. Hopefully this research will raise the level of interest and awareness about this sad topic and ultimately to save some innocent lives. The bottom line is that each and every one of these deaths is 100% preventable. Infants and children are the most precious cargo that is ever transported in a vehicle and everyone should be cognizant of the potential dangers to a child left alone in a car.
For more stats and info on this subject, visit http://ggweather.com/heat.
The author, a former National Weather Service lead forecaster, owns the Golden Gate Weather Services consulting firm and is an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University. One of his major research areas is the dynamics of how hot vehicles can get and the tracking of hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles.
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