Study: 16 hot car deaths so far in 2014

Hot car deaths in the southeastern United States in first 6 months of 2014. (San Fransisco State University)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.In the first 190 days of 2014 there were at least 16 deaths of children left in vehicles in the United States, according to the San Francisco State University's Department of Geosciences.  Twelve of those deaths are confirmed as heatstroke and four are still pending official findings by the medical examiner.

Last year, 2013, there were at least 44 deaths of children in vehicles; 39 which were confirmed as heatstroke and five which, based upon the known circumstances, are most likely heatstroke.

Among the deaths this year were two in Georgia -- including the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris left in a car while his father was at work -- and two in Florida: a 9-month-old in Rockledge and a 2-year-old in Sarasota. [See table of 2014 deaths at end of this article.]

According to the Players Center for Child Health, of the 15 children who died, 52 percent were left accidentally, 18 percent were left intentionally (perhaps only planned to be for a short time), and 29 percent of the victims got into the cars themselves.

"We're off to, unfortunately, a really bad start this year, with already having 15 deaths and we're only in July," said Jessica Winberry of Players Center. "We'll continue to see this happen, unfortunately."

The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively transparent to the sun's radiation of head, but the sunlight does heat objects that it strikes.  For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees.

  • Heatstroke occurs when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed.  Symptoms include: dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, hallucinations.
  • A core body temperature of 107 degrees F or greater can be lethal as cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down. 
  • Children's thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult's and their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult's.

A study by the SFSU measured how quickly the temperature of a car parked in the sun will rise:

  • 10 minutes ~ 19 deg F
  • 20 minutes ~ 29 deg F
  • 30 minutes ~ 34 deg F
  • 60 minutes ~ 43 deg F
  • 1 to 2 hours ~ 45-50 deg F

The study also found that "cracking" the windows had little effect and the color of the interior of the vehicle was the biggest factor in how quickly the temperature will rise.

Hot car deaths of 2014

Source: University of San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences