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In the United States, more people have died from being left in hot cars than from lightning strikes so far this year.
Twenty-four children have died from vehicular heatstroke since the beginning of the year, according to noheatstroke.org, which is run by a member of San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.
In comparison, fatalities due to lightning strikes in 2018 stand at 15 as of Tuesday, July 17, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported.
The hot car deaths so far this year have occurred in 16 different states, with most of them taking place in the southern U.S.
On average, 37 children die in hot cars annually, according to advocacy group Kidsandcars.org.
The majority of the victims are just 3 years old or younger.
“The inside of a car acts like a greenhouse,” according to the NWS.
Sunlight shines into a closed vehicle, heats up the interior and then this heat stays trapped by the glass and can’t escape. This occurs even if the windows are partially cracked open.
In as little as 10 minutes, the inside of a car can heat up by 20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“A child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s,” the NHTSA said.
Thus, when a child or even a pet is left in a closed or partially closed vehicle, their internal temperature can rise to deadly levels in a very short time.
Hot car deaths can occur at any time of year
One of the main misconceptions is that hot car deaths can only occur in the summer when temperatures are at their highest and the sun's rays are strongest.
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While it is true that the number of hot car deaths spikes in the summer months, being in a locked up vehicle can be fatal at any time of year.
Hot car deaths are possible even with outside temperatures in the 50s, 60s and 70s F.
Initiatives to prevent more deaths
Companies are using various technologies in an effort to lower the number of hot car deaths that occur every year.
Waze, a navigational application available on Android and iOS, has a child reminder notification which alerts a driver to check the back seat once the vehicle reaches its destination. The alert can be customized to receive reminders for more than one child, as well as pets.
Some General Motor’s vehicles are outfitted with back door sensors that trigger a rear seat reminder once the vehicle is turned off.
In Utah, the Primary Children's Hospital is giving out the Baby Safety Snap, a bright yellow lanyard that you leave in your baby's car seat and then put around your neck once the baby is in the vehicle.
"It's just a great visual reminder when you put your child in the car, you put the lanyard around your neck and then when you arrive at your destination the bright yellow lanyard will help you remember there's a child in your car," Jessica Strong, Primary Children's Hospital Community Health Manager, said to KTVX.
In lieu of these measures, drivers should make it a habit to look in the front and back of their vehicle before locking the doors and walking away.
Anyone who sees a child or pet locked up in a vehicle is advised to call 911 right away.
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