Overheating in Cars

October 1, 2010 · 0 comments

The September Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society features an article with a new table showing how fast the inside of a parked car can heat up if left with the windows closed. The data comes none too soon.

A small Kansas-based nonprofit, Kids and Cars, says that already this year, 48 children have died of hyperthermia in cars in the United States. This is a new record in the 13 years statistics have been available. An average of 37 children in the United States die each year from hyperthermia in cars.

It’s tempting to blame the spike in deaths (there were 33 last year) to the record heat in various parts of the country, but Jan Null, a CCM with Golden Gate Weather Services, cautions that hyperthermia in vehicles is a danger with or without record heat waves:

I think from the small 13-year sample that we have that probably from a statistical basis, this is within the range of what you would expect. It’s impossible, I think, to associate it with the weather totally. Is weather a factor? It’s always a factor.
According to the BAMS article, the interior air temperature of the vehicle can rise about 4°C in 5 minutes, about 7°C in 10 minutes, and 16°C in 30 minutes, and 26°C in an hour. Thus after an hour in direct sunlight, the air temperature in the vehicle can reach 57°C (135°F). Authors Andrew Grundstein, John Dowd, and Vernon Meentemeyer hope their research helps educate people about the dangers of hyperthermia to children who sometimes are inadvertently left unattended in cars.
Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, notes that these tragedies are due to ordinary memory error, not bad parenting, and hopes car makers will install warning systems that will alert parents who might have left their kids in cars, just as technology has made it possible already to warn of keys left in the ignition, open trunks, and low batteries. She says people can help themselves by routinely placing their briefcases, cell phones, or other needed items the back seat, near their children, so that they’ll have to look back before leaving the car.