Texas A&M Researcher’s Formula Quantifies Fatal Hazards To Kids Left In Hot Cars

By Richard Nira, Texas A&M University College of Architecture

COLLEGE STATION, July 6, 2018 — A mathematical model developed by Robert Brown, Texas A&M University professor of landscape architecture, was used in a highly publicized study quantifying the time it takes for young children to become dangerously hot when they are accidentally left in the back seat of a sweltering car.

The study, led by Jennifer Vanos, a member of the University of California, San Diego faculty, found that approximately 80 minutes trapped in a hot car is enough to kill a child. In a shaded vehicle, it takes slightly under two hours for a two-year-old’s body to reach a lethal temperature.

Release of the findings created a nationwide media buzz, which Vanos hopes will go far toward reducing the grim toll of hot car-related fatalities.

“We are hoping that our study can invoke awareness, send a new message with a human health-centered focus, support technological adoption from car manufacturers and other device manufacturers, and advance new policies that give people legal immunity if they need to save children and pets trapped in hot vehicles,” she told ABC News.

Approximately 37 children die each year from pediatric vehicular hyperthermia, in which the body warms to more than 104 degrees and cannot cool down. Also, in the last 20 years, approximately 750 children in the U.S. have suffered from heatstroke after they were left unattended in a car.

Brown co-developed the Comfort Formula, or COMFA, which informed Vanos’ study, in 1981 as part of his doctoral studies. It contains a series of equations combining climate factors, such as temperature and humidity, with physiological data and other factors, to estimate thermal comfort and potential heat stress.

Vanos is a member of Brown’s Microclimatic Design Research Group, an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars who study how cities can be more comfortable by learning how design affects temperature, solar radiation, wind and other environmental factors in small areas.

The group’s findings are especially relevant, said Brown, in light of climate change and ever-increasing use of impermeable, dry surfaces that cause urban areas to become warmer than their rural surroundings.

This story is posted on Texas A&M Today.