Danger zone: A hot car can be a killer

Keeping cool and beating the heat during the summer may seem difficult at times. For a young child or pet locked inside a hot car, it can be impossible.

According to KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit child safety organization, an average of 38 children die in the U.S. each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside a vehicle. There have been 17 deaths so far this year, with one death in Illinois.

The air inside a vehicle on an 80-degree day can reach 123 degrees in 60 minutes, according to a study by the Department of Earth and Climate Sciences at San Francisco State University. It takes just 10 minutes for the temperature inside the car to reach 99 degrees and 30 minutes to reach 114 degrees. The study also found that metal objects in a car, such as a seat belt, and dark objects, such as a dashboard, steering wheel, or seat, can reach over 200 degrees.

Leaving people or pets in parked vehicles can lead to heat-related illnesses and can result in death from hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke and heat prostration.

"The most severe form of heat-related illness is heat stroke," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck.  "Heat stroke occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its internal temperature. Temperatures in parked vehicles, even if the windows are slightly open, can quickly rise to dangerous levels and pets, children, and even adults can suffer symptoms of heat stroke. Never leave pets, infants and children in parked vehicles, even if the air conditioner is running."

Obesity, heart disease, poor circulation, and prescription drug or alcohol use can make some people more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. The effects of the heat can be more severe on children because their bodies warm at a faster rate than adults.

According to the National Weather Service, leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the heating rate.

"Leaving the window open an inch or two really makes no difference," DeKalb Police Commander Jason Leverton said.

Illinois is one of 20 states where it is illegal to leave a child unattended inside a vehicle. Leaving a child alone inside a car can result in child endangerment and neglect charges and can lead to an investigation by the Department of Child and Family Services. Leaving a pet inside a vehicle can lead to a charge of animal cruelty.

"A child should never be left in a car, regardless of the temperature," Leverton said. "The heat is dangerous, no matter your age or health."

Leverton recommends never leaving a child or pet alone, especially inside a hot car.

"Always err on the side of caution," he said. "If you question leaving them behind, do not do it."

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