As a record-breaking heatwave approaches Southern California, the Automobile Club of Southern California reminds drivers about the dangers of hot cars and vehicle-related wildfires. The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings and watches across much of Southern California this week.
The potential for hot or warm days throughout most of the year in Southern California can lead to danger for kids. AAA research shows that heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle fatalities for kids 14 and younger. In 90-degree weather, the inside of a vehicle, in direct sunlight, can exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Even on a mild, sunny day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.
Children are particularly susceptible to heatstroke because their bodies can heat up to three to five times faster than adults. Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states. More than half of heatstroke deaths occur when a distracted caregiver forgets about a quiet child in the vehicle. A quarter of vehicle heatstroke deaths occur when a child crawls inside an unlocked vehicle and becomes trapped.
According to KidsandCars.org, nearly 1,000 children have died in hot cars since 1990. On average there are 39 deaths each year in the U.S, which is about one every nine days.
“These are not typically intentional deaths, but rather happen when parents or guardians make a change in their routine or neglect to properly lock cars and trucks,” said Auto Club Traffic Safety and Community Programs Manager Anita Lorz Villagrana. “The result of these tragedies can forever change families.”
While you can’t control the heat, you can protect the youngest passengers. The Auto Club recommends the following precautions:
- Never leave children or animals unattended in a car, not even for a short period of time.
- Create reminders and habits that give you and other caregivers a safety net. Leave an item needed at your next stop in the back seat so you don’t forget about loved ones.
- Take action if you see an unattended child or pet in a vehicle. Dial 911 immediately and follow the instructions of emergency personnel.
- Make sure all children have left the vehicle after it is parked.
- Always keep vehicles locked, even in the garage or driveway.
- Never leave keys and/or remote openers within reach of children.
- When parked, use a sun shield to cover the windshield to minimize heat buildup and to help protect the car’s interior. Cover metal and plastic parts on seat belts and child safety seats to prevent burns.
- Open the vehicle’s doors and let the interior cool for a few minutes before entering.
The Auto Club also reminds drivers that a new California law that took effect on January 1st of this year protects Good Samaritans who break windows to rescue kids. The law, which was introduced by Assembly Member Ed Chau, Assembly District 49 (D-Monterrey Park), supported by the Auto Club and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, provides people with immunity from liability for damage to cars and trucks when someone is rescuing children age 6 and younger trapped in a vehicle.
Along with the heat this week also comes the danger for wildfires. Vehicles have been the cause of some of California’s largest, most expensive fires including the 2017 Carr Fire near Redding. Costing more than $1.6 billion, the Carr Fire started when a trailer blowout caused the metal rim to spark and ignite roadside vegetation. Cal Fire officials also said a diesel-fueled vehicle emitting burning carbon from the exhaust system was to blame for starting the Apple Fire near Banning in 2020 and authorities determined a farm worker’s pickup truck parked on top of a mulch pile caused the Holser Fire south of Lake Piru that same year.
The Auto Club offers drivers these tips prevent vehicle-related wildfires:
Stay on paved surfaces. If you need to pull over, stay on paved surfaces to avoid dry vegetation.
Don’t park on the side of the road where flammables, including dry grass, may reach hot parts of the vehicle, including the muffler or catalytic converter.
Practice safe towing. Dragging chains throws sparks. Use appropriate safety pins and hitch ball to secure chains.
Fix Dragging Parts. Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained, with nothing dragging on the ground, such as a loose muffler or cables.
Check Tire Condition and Pressure. Be sure your tires have enough tread and aren’t too worn. If they blowout, driving on an exposed tire rim can throw sparks. Maintain proper tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can cause more friction which can lead to a blowout.
Properly Maintain Brakes. Brakes worn too thin may cause metal to metal contact, which can cause a spark.
Look for Fluid Leaks. If you spot leaks, get them checked out. Most vehicle fluids are flammable. Heat and electrical sparks that touch leaking fluid can ignite a fire. When driving, look for rapid changes in fuel or fluid level or increased engine temperature which may indicated a leak.
Keep the Vehicle Maintained. Have the vehicle regularly serviced by a trained mechanic. They can spot cracked or loose wires and hoses, oil or fluid leaks,
Avoid Transporting Gasoline in Your Vehicle. If you must carry gasoline, take only a small amount in a certified, sealed gas can and place the container in the trunk of your car or in the bed of your truck – never in the passenger compartment.
Carry a Fire Extinguisher. Learn how to use a fire extinguisher and get one for your vehicle.
If your car catches fire, pull over quickly and safely. Once stopped, turn off the engine and get everybody out of the vehicle. Call 911.