Hot Cars Perilous for Children, Pets in Summer

July 14, 2011; 8:20 AM ET
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As temperatures across the nation soar this summer, so do the deaths of children and pets left inside vehicles.

From 1998 to May 2011, 500 children have died because they were left in hot vehicles, according to Consumer Reports.

Whether you're running a quick errand or taking a road trip, it's important to understand just how quickly the temperature inside an enclosed car can rise.

Short-wave energy from the sun enters vehicles through the relatively transparent nature of their windows. The internal objects in the automobile heat the air inside and give off long-wave energy, which is not able to escape from the vehicle.

Children and animals are less able to handle this extreme heat than adults and are more susceptible to hyperthermia.

Hyperthermia, a medical emergency when the body produces or absorbs more heat that is can dissipate, can lead to brain damage, kidney failure and death.

More than half of all child hyperthermia fatalities in the United States from 1998 to 2009 were children under two years old.

According to a study by San Francisco State University (SFSU), temperatures in a closed automobile rose approximately 19 degrees in just 10 minutes, 29 degrees after 20 minutes, 34 degrees in 30 minutes and 43 degrees in an hour. The temperature could increase 50 degrees after a second hour.

The Animal Protection Institute (API) conducted their own study that showed that deadly temperatures can quickly build inside a closed vehicle, even with moderately warm temperatures outside.

The study found that even at 9 a.m. with an outside temperature of 82 degrees, the closed automobile registered 109 degrees inside. When the outside temperature rose to 112 degrees at 1:30 p.m., the closed vehicle reached 124 degrees.

The API's study also measured vehicles with cracked windows. With four windows cracked, a 88-degree day outside turned into a 103-degree sauna inside the vehicle at 10 a.m. When the temperature rose to 110 degrees at 2 p.m. that day, the internal temperature rose to 123 degrees.

Although there was a drop in the internal temperature of an automobile with cracked windows, the data from these studies shows leaving a child or pet inside remains a perilous choice.

Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle. If you see a child in a hot vehicle, call 9-1-1.


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