2.2 Heatstroke Fatalitiies of Children in Hot Vehicles

Wednesday, 18 June 2014: 11:00 AM
Alpine Ballroom (Resort at Squaw Creek)
Jan Null, San Francisco State University, Saratoga, CA

Since 1998 over 605 children in the United States have died from hyperthermia (i.e., heat-stroke) in motor vehicles. When these incidents occur, the broadcast meteorologist, often in his role as station scientist, will be asked questions like “how hot might it have gotten inside that vehicle”, “how frequently do these events occur around here”, “when was the last we had such an incident” or “what can be done to prevent these tragedies?” This paper will provide the necessary background information to answer those queries, and even more importantly information which can be used proactively to prevent these types of deaths.

Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature reaches approximately 104 degrees F, often followed by death if the body temperatures rises to 107 degrees or greater. The problem is exacerbated when children are involved because their body temperature rises at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than adult's. This research shows both the extremely rapid rate of temperature rise within vehicles (i.e., > 60% of the rise is in the first 15 minutes) and the extreme high temperatures that are attained inside a vehicle (in excess of 140 degrees). Even with relatively mild ambient temperatures vehicular temperatures can reach levels that put the life of infants and children in jeopardy. It is also shown that leaving the windows opened slightly does not significantly slow the heating process.

This paper also addresses the epidemiology of hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles, which has literally reached epidemic proportions. Both the temporal and geographic distribution of incidents are tracked as are the types of circumstances under which they occur. Additionally, how these cases fit into the overall gathering of “heat” related deaths nationwide and how these cases may (or may not) be prosecuted is examined.

Ultimately, this paper will have two “take-aways” for the broadcaster/station scientist. First, they will have accurate and timely information to provider to their audiences. And secondly, they will have safety recommendations for parent and caregivers that may help prevent a future tragedy.

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