The Physiological Effects of Heat Inside a Locked Vehicle

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign reports that at even temperatures as mild as 60 degrees F, a closed vehicle can heat up to dangerous levels within minutes.There is a sense of urgency for removal of a person or animal locked in a vehicle. Between 1996...


The National SAFE KIDS Campaign reports that at even temperatures as mild as 60 degrees F, a closed vehicle can heat up to dangerous levels within minutes.There is a sense of urgency for removal of a person or animal locked in a vehicle. Between 1996 and 2001, 150 children died as a result of heatstroke inside the passenger compartment of vehicles in the US according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign organization. Safety experts with SAFE KIDS state that 90% of these victims were three years old or younger. The National SAFE KIDS Campaign reports that at even temperatures as mild as 60 degrees F, a closed vehicle can heat up to dangerous levels within minutes.

As the interior rapidly heats up, the loss of both physical and mental capabilities due to dehydration occurs. When the air temperature is higher than 92 degrees F., the body begins to absorb heat, making the trapped person or animal a prime candidate for dehydration. Early symptoms of dehydration are unusual thirst, discomfort, slowed movements, and loss of coordination.

The Vermont Dept of Health reports that when the outside air temperature reaches the 90s, the interior of a parked car can reach 125 degrees F even when the window is left open a "crack" for air. In fact, says the Colorado SAFE KIDS Coalition, when the outside temperature is 93 degrees F and a vehicle window is down as much as "1&1/2 inches", the temperature inside the car can still reach 125 degrees F in just 20 minutes and approximately 140 degrees F in 40 minutes. At those temperatures, a child can suffer heatstroke within minutes, followed by permanent disability or death. Heatstroke can occur when the body temperature reaches 105 degrees F; death at 107 degrees F.

The Center for Disease Control made a report to Congress stating that cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures of up to 131F - 172F when the outside temperatures are only 80F - 100F. Vehicles that are parked in direct sunlight and that are poorly ventilated also reach higher temperatures more rapidly than vehicles that are parked in the shade or that have windows completely opened.

Experts state the most rapid temperature increase to potentially lethal levels inside a vehicle occurs during the first 15 minutes of being left in the sun!

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