Hot cars can reach deadly temperatures in just an hour: study

Though summer is just getting underway in Canada, already a three-year-old boy was found dead in a hot car on May 23 in Toronto. Police said the cause of death was hyperthermia, which is when the body temperature rises above 40 C. Environment Canada said the outside temperature at the time was 26 C.

In the U.S., there have already been six children who’ve died in hot cars in 2018, but that number is expected to rise; on average, 37 kids die in hot cars every year.


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A new study shows that on a hot day, it can take as little as one hour for a car to get hot enough to be deadly for a two-year-old child.

In the shade, it only takes around two hours to reach temperatures that potentially are deadly.

The study, from the Arizona State University and the University of California, left cars out in the sun and in the shade when the outside temperature was in the high 30s in Arizona.

The vehicles they tested included sedans, economy cars and minivans. One vehicle of each type was in the sun, while an identical type was in the shade.

After an hour, the average cabin temperature for cars in the sun was about 46 C – with dashboard surface temperatures of 69 C (157 F) on average. That’s hot enough to burn human skin.

WATCH: Mom encourages parents to teach kids how to get out of hot car

In the shade, after an hour, the average cabin temperature was in the high 30s (around 100 F) and average dashboard surfaces were 48C (118 F).

“Everyone thinks, ‘Well, I just parked in the shade, it was OK,’” study co-author Nancy Selover told Global News. “Well, it can still get quite hot and uncomfortable inside.”

She says the thing that surprised her the most about the numbers were the surface temperatures; while the average was 69 C, some cars saw temperatures of 88 C (192 F)

“On a child’s skin which is pretty tender, you could actually get a burn from touching a surface,” she said.

She said the surfaces get hotter and give off heat which is unable to escape a closed car.

“What happens is the sun comes through the windshield and it heats the surfaces, that it hits the seats, the dashboard, the rear deck behind the seats, things like that,” Selover said. “And those things absorb the heat and they give off heat and they’re giving off a different value of radiation that is not able to escape the car.”

Cars can become deadly after one hour in the sun on a hot summer day.

Cars can become deadly after one hour in the sun on a hot summer day.

Graphic by Safwat Saleem/ASU

The study was done with empty cars, but Selover said it could get hot quicker if a human being is inside the car because they exhale and introduce humidity.

 “But imagine what that would be like to a child trapped in a car seat,” she said in a news release. “And once you introduce a person into these hot cars, they are exhaling humidity into the air. When there is more humidity in the air, a person can’t cool down by sweating because sweat won’t evaporate as quickly.”

Last summer, a Hamilton doctor only lasted 15 minutes when doing the “hot-car challenge,” in which he stayed in the car on a hot day for as long as he could.

The weather at the time was overcast, and officials said in the minutes Dr. Anthony Crocco was in the car, the interior temperature reached up to around 40 C.


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Memory is common factor in hot-car deaths

The study also said that in more than 50 per cent of cases, a parent or caregiver had forgotten their child in the car.

“Often these stories involve a distracted parent,” Gene Brewer, associate professor of psychology at ASU, said in a release. “Functionally, there isn’t much of a difference between forgetting your keys and forgetting your child in the car.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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