Silent Deaths In Cars

Occasionally there will be headlines from across the world about deaths that occur in idling cars. The cause of death – carbon monoxide, an odorless and tasteless assassin; hence, leakage of carbon monoxide because of an obstructed tail pipe will go unnoticed. When carbon monoxide binds with the hemoglobin in the blood, it will prevent the transportation of oxygen in the body. The passenger will feel drowsy, possible nausea and loss of consciousness; if the person is already asleep, they will not even feel any of these side effects.

One does not need to be in a car crash to die in a car.

YOU are responsible in preventing this from happening. Make sure that your vehicle’s exhaust system and engine is in tip-top conditions – an out-of-tune engine can produce more carbon monoxide. Most importantly, do not sleep in the car with the engine running. Even with a well-functioning AC system, the air circulation inside an idling vehicle is still poor.

Besides low oxygen levels, medical doctors also highlight that a leaking AC system will cause the temperature to spike, causing the body to lose fluids. According to Department of Earth and Climate Sciences from the San Francisco State University, on average there are 38 cases of child fatality from heatstroke while in cars. From the 606 child vehicular heatstroke deaths within a 14-year period, 51% of the children were left in the car due to the caregiver’s forgetfulness, 29% were left playing in the unattended car, 18% were left in the car intentionally by adults and 1% were due to unknown circumstances.

Dying from heatstroke in cars is different from carbon monoxide poisoning. The sun’s shortwave radiation can penetrate the windows and into the atmosphere of a car; this shortwave is “slightly warm” at the beginning but can heat objects, such as dark-coloured dashboard or upholstery, and then cause the temperature to spike to up to 94°C! Conduction and convection will then produce long wave radiation that will heat up the trapped air in the car.

Medical research indicates that heatstroke happens when the body’s temperature exceeds 40°C, overwhelming the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism. The person will feel dizzy, disoriented, confused, agitated, experience hallucinations and rapid heartbeat, which leads to unconsciousness. At about 42°C, cell damage occurs and internal organs start to shut down. A child’s thermoregulatory system is less efficient and temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s.

There are much better places to sleep than in a car; do not leave your kids alone unattended in a vehicle. This is a gentle reminder that a car accident happens not only when it crashes with another, but can also happen silently and stealthily.


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