An inside of a car parked in the Sun can reach temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius in just an hour, and could prove fatal for a child trapped inside, a study has found. On average, 37 children in the US die each year due to complications of hyperthermia – when the body warms to above 40 degrees Celsius and cannot cool down – after being trapped in overheated, parked cars.
Researchers from University of California San Diego and Arizona State University in the US found that if a car is parked in the sun on a summer day, the interior temperature can reach 46 degrees Celsius and the dashboard may exceed 73 degrees Celsius in approximately one hour – the time it can take for a young child trapped in a car to suffer fatal injuries. The study, published in the journal Temperature, compared how different types of cars warm up on hot days when exposed to different amounts of shade and sunlight over different periods of time.
Researchers also took into account how these temperature differences would affect the body of a hypothetical two-year-old child left in a vehicle on a hot day. “Young children are vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat with increased emergency department visits found during heat waves. Internal injuries can begin at temperatures below 104 degrees (40 degrees Celsius),” said Jennifer Vanos, assistant professor at UC San Diego.
“As compared to adults, children have a quicker rise in core temperature and a lower efficiency at cooling,” said Vanos. Researchers used six vehicles for the study: two identical silver mid-size sedans, two identical silver economy cars and two identical silver minivans. “We’ve all gone back to our cars on hot days and have been barely able to touch the steering wheel,” said Nancy Selover, research professor at Arizona State University.
“Imagine what that would be like to a child trapped in a car seat on a hot day, either in the sun or shade,” said Selover. The researchers found that, for vehicles parked in the Sun during a simulated shopping trip, the average temperature inside the vehicles hit 46 degrees Celsius, dashboards 69 degrees Celsius, steering wheels 52 degrees Celsius, and seats 50 degrees Celsius in one hour. For vehicles parked in the shade, interior car temperatures were closer to 37 degrees Celsius, dash boards averaged 47 degrees Celsius, steering wheels 41 degrees Celsius and seats 40 degrees Celsius after one hour.
“We found that a child trapped in a car under the study’s conditions could reach a body temperature of 40 degrees Celsius in about an hour if a car is parked in the sun, and just under two hours if the car is parked in the shade,” said Vanos. “This body temperature could be fatal to infants and children – and those who survive may sustain permanent neurological damage,” she said.
The different types of vehicles tested in the study warmed up at different rates, with the economy car warming at the fastest rate and the minivan the slowest due to relative air volumes However, when addressing the overall heat gain from temperature, radiation and other factors, a person’s age, weight, existing health problems and other factors, including clothing, will affect how and when heat becomes deadly.
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