Here's how hot temperatures can get in your car

Officials warn parents of extreme danger

By Brianna Volz - Web producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - In Florida outside temperatures tend to stay consistently hot, even after the summer ends. Those conditions turn the inside of a vehicle into a deadly situation when children and pets are left inside.

Last year, 43 hot vehicle-related deaths of children were reported nationwide, according to KidsandCars.Org, an organization that tracks similar cases across the country. In the last 20 years, 791 children have died from pediatric vehicular heatstroke, NoHeatStroke.Org, a similar organization, reported. 

According to KidsandCars.Org, 48 children have died in hot cars this year nationwide.

To prevent further tragedies this year, it’s important to know how hot is too hot before it’s too late. That’s why a Central Florida Emergency Room physician took the time this week, ahead of the official start of summer, to demonstrate the dangers of hot cars.

During the demo, Dr. Steve Swearingen, of Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center, sat in a hot car with the windows up to show just how fast temperatures rise and explained the onset of heat stroke symptoms. 

Exactly how hot can it get? Hot enough for researchers at Arizona State University and the University of California at San Diego to call cars left in the sun for less than an hour “deathtraps.” 

Researchers said even they were shocked at some of the numbers they gathered during their study, which was conducted using six different vehicles in both the sun and shade on three hot summer days in Arizona in hopes of replicating what might happen during someone’s typical shopping trip. 

Florida Hospital broke down the universities’ findings once the study was complete. Here’s a closer look at some of the numbers:
•    A vehicle parked in the sun for one hour reached an average cabin temperature of 116 degrees. 
•    In a locked vehicle, a dark dashboard, steering wheel or seat can often reach temperature ranges of 180 - 200 degrees F, which then warms the air trapped inside a vehicle.

Here’s what they found on temperatures in vehicles parked in the shade versus the sun:

•    The average cabin temperature for vehicles parked in the sun during the trip hit 116 degrees in one hour. Dashboards averaged 157 degrees, while steering wheels reached 127 degrees and seats rose to 123 degrees.
•    Interior temperatures were closer to 100 degrees after one hour in vehicles parked in the shade. Dashboards averaged 118 degrees, while steering wheels reached 107 degrees and seats rose to 105 degrees.

A spokeswoman for KidsandCars.Org said the above findings should not lead others to believe children should be left in hot vehicles for any amount of time.

"It is important to note that children can die in hot cars in less than an hour. We have documented cases where children have been found unconscious after being in a hot car for 10 minutes," she said. "These findings can be a bit misleading, making people think that it is OK to leave children in cars if it is less than an hour."

Researchers said the different vehicles they used, which were two silver sedans, two silver economy cars and two silver minivans, warmed at different rates, with the economy car warming quicker than the others.

To put those numbers into perspective, it only takes a core body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit for cells to be damaged and internal organs to begin shutting down. Those series of events can quickly lead to death.

The heat inside a hot vehicle is especially dangerous to children, according to Florida Hospital, because their thermoregulatory systems don’t work as efficiently as adults’, meaning their body temperatures warm three to five times faster.

Why people forget
It’s easy to play the blame game when something like this happens, but according to Gene Brewer, an associate psychology professor at ASU, it can happen to anyone.

“Memory failures are remarkably powerful, and they happen to everyone. There is no difference between gender, class, personality, race or other traits,” Brewer said. “Functionally, there isn’t much of a difference between forgetting your keys and forgetting your child in the car.”

He said these situations often involved a distracted parent who is used to their routine, such as driving to work or dropping the child off on their designated day, then having a change take place, which throws off their routine. Brewer said that’s when memory failures occur, and that those failures aren’t linked to any other specific factors.

“The cognitive failure happens because someone’s mind has gone to a new place, and their routine has been disrupted,” he said. “They are suddenly thinking about new things, and that leads to forgetfulness. Nobody in this world has an infallible memory.”

He also emphasized that the memory failures have nothing to do with the child.

Safety tips
NoHeatStroke.Org offers the following tips to avoid leaving children or pets inside hot vehicles:

  • Never leave kids unattended in cars
  • Always check the backseat. Leave something else of importance that you'd normally take out, like your wallet, there as a reminder.
  • Always keep car locked and keys out of reach.
  • Make arrangements with your child's daycare to have them call if your child is absent.
  • Call authorities if you spot a child alone in a car.

What to look for
The above tips should help parents and guardians to avoid leaving a child in the dangerous heat, but if it does happen, here are the heatstroke symptoms to look out for, according to Florida Hospital:

 •    dizziness
•    disorientation
•    agitation
•    confusion
•    sluggishness
•    seizure
•    hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty
•    loss of consciousness
•    rapid heartbeat
•    hallucinations

Get a full breakdown of the numbers for all hot car-related deaths below, courtesy of NoHeatStroke.Org.

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