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Jan Null smiles as he steps out of the driver’s seat of his car which has a sticker on the window that reads as follows: never leave children alone in or around cars. The dealth of a child inside a hot car in San Jose was the catayst for Jan Null's research related to car-interior hyperthermia. Photo by Lui Gino de GrandisHot Cars and Kids:
A Deadly Mix
Meteorologist Jan Null collects the kind of data that can save young lives. Since 1998, when the adjunct professor began his research, 230 babies and toddlers in the United States have died of hyperthermia after being forgotten inside cars on warm days.

"The Transportation Safety Board tracks fatalities only on the highways," Null says. "That leaves out the deaths that happen in parking lots, driveways, garages -- places where children would most likely be left in a car."

As part of his research, Null records the temperature rise inside cars under various scenarios. Even on a mild day of 70 degrees, Null says, "the inside temperature of a car will rise 29 degrees in just 20 minutes -- and that's with the windows cracked." This can be fatal, he adds, for children, as well as for pets.

In recent years, California State Assemblywoman Jackie Speier turned to Null for statistics to back a bill protecting children from car-interior hyperthermia. Passed in 2001 and named after a young victim, Kaitlyn's Law forbids anyone from leaving a child under 6 alone in a car.

Ironically, Null says that the number of small children who have overheated in cars has risen since air bags were introduced as a safety device. "Once we learned that air bags could injure or kill a child in the front seat and we started securing kids in the back -- dads, moms, grandparents or other caregivers began to forget that they had a child sleeping in the back seat," Null says. In one case last year, each of the parents of a little girl assumed that the other had their child. By the time they realized what had happened, it was too late.

Null is now called as an expert witness in court cases of child hyperthermia.

In July, the prestigious online medical journal Pediatrics published a paper addressing hyperthermic deaths of children, co-authored by Null and emergency physicians at Stanford Medical Center.

Recently, car and automotive accessory manufacturers have started to experiment with weight sensors that sound an alarm when the weight of a child is detected after car doors have been shut and locked.

For more information:

-- Denize Springer


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