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When your car becomes a death trap

Pets and little children trapped in cars exposed to sunlight are prone to suffering a heatstroke. (Picture for representational purpose only). Photo: R. Ravindran  

Parents driving around small children are alive to the danger on the outside, justifiably wary of every other vehicle sharing the road with theirs. It’s likely that most of them are oblivious to something that can strike their children from inside the car. Heatstroke.

As someone who stubbornly believes days of special observances have their uses, I was drawn to Heatstroke Prevention Day, observed in many parts of the United States on July 31, and learnt that advocacy groups promoting safety of children travelling in cars use it to spread awareness about the risk of heatstroke in kids left locked in ‘hot’ cars. A spate of accidents of this nature, some of them fatal, in recent weeks seems to have added a sense of urgency to this year’s campaign.

In my opinion, a drive of this sort is needed in India, where the new socio-economic realities are ever leading to more families with two incomes and an increasing reliance on domestic helpers and drivers in the care of children. has displayed a set of five slides that demonstrate why high temperatures within a car can prove fatal for toddlers, young children and pets. As illustrated by the info-graphics, if the ambient temperature is 90 degree Fahrenheit, the temperature within a locked car, totally exposed to the sun, will climb to 109 degree Fahrenheit in 10 minutes, 119 degree Fahrenheit in 20 minutes, 124 degree Fahrenheit in 30 minutes, 133 degree Fahrenheit in 60 minutes, and 138 degree Fahrenheit in 90 minutes.

According to a study by two medical practitioners, Catherine McLaren and James Quinn, and an American Meteorological Society-certified consulting meteorologist, Jan Null, published in Volume 116 No.1, July 1, 2005 of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which dealt with the subject of temperatures in an enclosed vehicle and their effect on toddlers and children, it does not take a very hot day for tragedy to strike.

Measuring the rise of temperatures “over a 60-minute period in a dark sedan on 16 different clear sunny days with ambient temperatures ranging from 72 degree Fahrenheit to 96 degree Fahrenheit”, they arrived at this conclusion: “Even at relatively cool ambient temperatures, the temperature rise in vehicles is significant on clear, sunny days and puts infants at risk for hyperthermia. Vehicles heat up rapidly, with the majority of the temperature rise occurring within the first 15 to 30 minutes. Leaving the windows open slightly does not significantly slow the heating process or the maximum temperature attained.” (The study in its entirety can be accessed at

In the last few weeks, the issue of children and pets trapped in hot cars cropped up often, sometimes as news items and sometimes as videos. Among those that drew many eyes is a video by a man from United States, Terry Williams, who has sent out a message to protect children from hot cars by putting himself in one. In this video on YouTube, he is seen sweating profusely, as he beseeches parents to be careful than sorry.

The words of caution and the heightened awareness about the issue are the result of more frequent reports of hyperthermia-induced deaths of children trapped in cars. Seventeen such deaths have reportedly taken place across the United States in 2014.

We would do well to heed the warning too, because nobody is immune to this problem. It is difficult for me to wrap words around the tragic deaths of two children, both four-year-olds, in Vijayawada in August 2011, when they accidentally locked themselves in, while playing in a car that had been parked around noon time. Photos of their grieving families were heart-rending: with simple precautions, we can ensure we don’t see such images again.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 12:55:39 PM |

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