When the shade turns deadly

It’s a dilemma that most parents of toddlers face from time to time, at least those that have cars.

You are driving back from the shops and your little one falls asleep just before you arrive back home.

What do you do? Carry them inside but risk disturbing their nap (and usually with it the peace), or leave them in the car to continue sleeping?

I admit that I have left my toddler in the car to finish a nap, but make sure to leave the car in the shade, put the windows down, sometimes keep the door open and always keep a watchful eye out – if not sit in with them.

The Thinker

Yet leaving him in the car nags me, after all how many times have we heard the stories about children that have died after being left in a hot car for too long. Indeed, in the US last year 42 children died this way.

So at what point does it become dangerous to keep a toddler in the car?

Some may say at any time, but researchers at Arizona State University and the University of California at San Diego in the US have looked at the numbers.

They have studied how hot the inside of a car can be when it is parked in direct sunlight and in the shade on a very hot day, modelling how this might affect a two-year-old toddler.

They found that cars left in direct sunlight for an hour when the outside temperature was 37°C (which for the UK would be near record-breaking) reached a sizzling 47.6°C while one put in shade still reached 39.5°C.

A body temperature of over 40°C is widely associated with heat stroke, and the researchers found that an infant’s core body temperature could rise to around 39°C after an hour, whether the car is left in the sun or not.

For the toddler’s body temperature to reach 40°C, it took just under 90 minutes in a car parked in the sun and around 150 minutes for one parked in the shade.

While it is obvious that a car parked in the sun would be excruciatingly hot,  it is perhaps surprising is that even in the shade on a hot day conditions can still get dangerous.


Author: Michael Banks

UK science writer

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