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2 hot car deaths reported in 2018 as strong spring sun poses dangers for children, pets

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
April 16, 2018, 12:54:55 PM EDT

As the days grow longer and the temperatures climb, it is becoming increasingly dangerous for children and pets to be left unattended in vehicles.

So far in 2018, two children have died in the United States after being left unattended in a hot car for an extended period of time, accord to NoHeatStroke.org.

The first pediatric vehicular heatstroke death occurred in Miami on Feb. 28, 2018. The second occurred in North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 3, 2018. The outdoor temperature in both cities on each respective day was in the low to mid-80s F.

In both Miami and North Charleston, the drivers of the vehicles forgot that the child was in the back seat and left them alone for several hours.

heat car

While some may think these dangers are present only during the hot summer months, the strengthening sun angle in the spring can cause the temperature in vehicles to spike on a sunny day.

The windows in cars act like a greenhouse, trapping the sun’s energy and causing the temperature inside the car to rise quickly. The stronger the sunlight gets heading into summer, the faster temperatures in a vehicle can reach life-threatening levels.

Since 1998, children being forgotten in a car by a caregiver have accounted for 54 percent of all pediatric vehicular heatstroke fatalities in the United States, according to Jan Null, a meteorologist with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University.

spring sun angle

On a hot and sunny day, the temperature inside of a vehicle can spike by nearly 20 degrees in just 10 minutes.

This means that even if the temperature outside is 80 F, the temperature inside of a vehicle can easily rise to over 100 F during a quick stop at a grocery store or trip into a bank.

Over the course of one to two hours, the temperature inside the vehicle can climb as much as 50 degrees higher than the outside air.

Young children are more susceptible to heat stoke as their bodies are not able to cool as easily when compared to adults.

"Children heat up three to four times faster than adults," Null said.

"In the worst case scenario, if a child is small and on the sunny side of the car, death can occur in 15 minutes or under," Null added.

Currently, it is only illegal in 19 states for children to be left unattended in vehicles, according to KidsandCars.org. Additionally, there are 13 states where such laws have been proposed, but not yet passed.

Pets also have a difficult time cooling off in extreme heat, making hot vehicles dangerous for animals like dogs and cats, even when the windows are cracked.

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The danger of life-threatening heat in vehicles will continue to rise in the coming weeks as the summer solstice approaches and the sunlight becomes more direct.

People with a child in the backseat of a car should always double check before leaving their vehicle.

Some experts suggest leaving a physical reminder in the backseat of the car with the child, such as a purse, briefcase or cell phone. This helps the driver to remember not to leave the vehicle without checking the backseat first.

If someone sees a child unattended in a vehicle, they should call 911 and stay near the vehicle until the police arrive.

hot car infographic

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