With its longer days and warmer air, many families will be heading out on the road this summer. But the same things that make this time of year so attractive can also make it potentially hazardous.
The hottest months of 2018 have now begun, and already, 12 children have sadly lost their lives this year to vehicular heatstroke. Most of the victims were infants, with a 3-year-old marking the year’s oldest casualty to date.
One of the things that make vehicular heatstroke so dangerous is how quickly it happens.
In 10 minutes, the interior of a car can heat up by 19 degrees. And cracking a window doesn’t help.
The issue arises from the rays of shortwave radiation beaming down from the sun. The solar energy is absorbed exceptionally well by dark-colored objects, such as a steering wheel, dashboard, or a car seat, which can reach temperatures of up to 200 degrees from exposure to the rays.
The heat-absorbed objects then emit longwave radiation, which works quickly and effectively at heating the air inside of a vehicle.
Children and animals are especially at risk in the superheated environment as it takes far less to bring up their core temperatures.
Even when a car is parked in the shade, a 2-year-old’s body can reach a potentially lethal 104 degrees in less than 2 hours, according to a recent study carried out by the University of Arizona. (Cars left in the sun could become fatal in just one hour, the study found.)
And while vehicles with light-colored interiors take a little longer to reach dangerous levels, they aren’t free from the lethal effects, which can happen on days with a temperature as low as 57 degrees.
Tips for keeping your little ones safe when you’re on the go -
Check for Hot Car-Seat Parts
Car-seat components, such as buckles and buckle tongues, can get extremely hot in the sun. Always check all areas of the car seat that come in contact with a child to help avoid burns. Seat manufacturers recommend putting a towel or lightly colored blanket over the car seat when it’s unoccupied and sitting in the sun.
Apply Sunscreen Before You Head Out
Infants can be exposed to ultraviolet rays even when they are in a car. It’s best to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to your little ones at least 15 minutes before heading out. Parents should also dress their children in lightweight, tightly woven clothing to keep them covered and cool, such as long-sleeved shirts and cotton pants.
Never Leave a Child Alone in the Car
Even if it doesn't seem like a hot sunny day, temperatures inside a car can still quickly rise to a dangerous level. Cloudy days with mild temperatures can still leave children at risk of heatstroke if left unaccompanied in the car.
Always Keep Your Vehicle Locked
Cars can be an intriguing play area for young children. That’s why it’s so necessary to keep all vehicles locked, even when it's at home. Always place the keys away from a child’s reach. Some deaths in hot cars have occurred when children were playing in them unattended.
Get a Towable RV Instead of a Motor Home
Motorhomes aren’t subject to the same federal vehicle safety standards as passenger vehicles and often don’t have proper seat belts, LATCH anchors (lower and top tether), or even a sufficient number of forward-facing vehicle seats to securely install car seats for children. And there can be many items in a motor home that can become projectiles in a collision. CR recommends keeping children secured safely and in car seats in your vehicle.
For more car seat and child passenger safety tips, see consumer reports car seat buying guide.