Today, July 24th, marks the bittersweet 20th anniversary of my involvement with Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH). On that sunny 86° summer afternoon in 2001, I got a call from a reporter telling me about the death of a 5-month-old boy inside a hot car in San Jose and asking, “How hot could it have gotten in that car?”. And so began my 20-year journey of measuring how hot cars get and the tracking of the tragic deaths of children in hot vehicles.
In trying to find the answer to the reporter’s query, I found only a single article and it was for a single 93-degree day in Louisiana. But my scientific curiosity was piqued and during that summer I started tracking temperatures inside vehicles. I was startled at not only how hot it could get but also how rapidly the temperature rose in the car.
The following summer, I did a controlled study where I sampled temperatures in cars over 16 days that ranged in temperature from 72° to 96°. I was also working on another project with the Stanford University Hospital Emergency Medicine Department and became acquainted with Dr. Catherine McLaren and Dr. James Quinn. They became my co-authors for the article “Heat Stress from Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed Vehicles”. This article was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005 and became the “go-to” article on the topic and has been referenced worldwide.
The article also led to my working with numerous child car safety groups and other organizations, and ultimately to my tracking the instances and circumstances that led to the deaths of children in hot cars. A dedicated website, NoHeatstroke.org was created to give easy access to this research and timely updates when there were PVH tragedies. Through the years, I have spoken at dozens of national conferences, given countless webinars and literally hundreds of interviews to increase awareness and share ideas on
preventing deaths of children in hot cars.
This 20-year milestone is important to acknowledge the children that have died and to continue to raise awareness about children dying in hot cars. If even one child is saved from being left in a hot car, it is more than worth the years of researching these tragic and unnecessary deaths.
Jan Null, CCM
Adjunct Professor of Meteorology
San Jose State University