As the fun–and heat–of summer approaches, it’s time to stop and re-think who you’re leaving in your vehicle. The summer season is prime time for hot car deaths, and these tragedies are even worse knowing that they’re preventable.
You may think cracking the windows or prior air-conditioning will keep those you’re leaving inside safe–and unfortunately curious little ones can trap themselves inside , too–but you should know that within five minutes on a 90° day, the temperature within a vehicle reaches that of the outdoors, and for every nine minutes the interior temperature increases 15°. Heat enters the vehicle through windows, causing objects within the car to heat up and convection works to trap the heat inside. The G reenhouse Effect is real, and it can be dangerous. As a responsible, safe driver, here’s what you should know about the Greenhouse Effect and hot car deaths.
Understand What the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ Is
Greenhouses, or glasshouses, have been around for thousands of years, taking advantage of the differing properties of light and heat. Sunlight easily passes through transparent and translucent materials, such as glass and some fabrics, naturally heating surfaces under them. These hot surfaces, such as plants, seat covers, and people, radiate heat energy, which cannot escape its environment, whether in a greenhouse or car.
While the Greenhouse Effect is great for growing warm-weather plants in cooler climates, it’s deadly for your passengers. Your car is basically a mobile greenhouse , and you’ve likely experienced the effect every time you opened your car on a sunny day: you are greeted by a blast of overheated air as soon as you open the door. Have you ever wondered just how hot it gets?
Realize That They Can’t Help Themselves
Unfortunately, most people don’t understand this heating problem. In a test, WeatherBug Meteorologist Jacob Wycoff spent just 30 minutes in his car on a sunny day. In just 20 minutes, the temperature had climbed to 120° F. Five minutes later, a camera failed from the heat, and five minutes after that, Wycoff was going into heat stroke.
Automakers understand solar loading, which is why you almost never see automotive interiors melting down even on the hottest and sunniest days of the year. Plants, people, and pets fare much worse, however. Left unattended, the most precious members of our families are at risk of heat stress, fatigue, syncope, cramps, exhaustion, stroke, and death. Children can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults; those most at-risk are also the least able to help themselves.
Pets and children in cars are simply unable to get out of their seats and open the doors.
Protect Your Loved Ones from Summer Sun
In a closed car, even with the windows “cracked open,” (ventilation does nothing) and even when it’s “not that hot,” (kids have died even on 60° days) vehicular heat stroke can cause hot car deaths among children in as little as 15 minutes. Here are a few tips to help you protect your child, or pet, this summer.
- Keep the car locked whenever it’s parked.
- Keep car keys and remotes out of reach of children.
- Set a reminder, like something you need in the back seat.
- When getting out of your car, look twice, even if you think you’re sure.
- Never leave your child or pet unattended, not even for a few minutes.
- Use drive-through services and pay for gas at the pump.
- If you see someone’s child in a car, call 911.
- If you see a child in distress, do what you must to save a life.
- If you see a pet in distress, call a non-emergency number.
Every year, vehicular heat stroke kills about 33 kids, 3 years old and younger. To protect your young and small passengers from summer sun, it pays to be mindful — and to check again and again.
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