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Earth Sense: Protect children, pets from hot car dangers
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Installing an aftermarket digital thermometer in my old Chevy van provided a lot of insight recently. This $15 instrument displays inside and outside temperature, as well as the system voltage of the vehicle.

It’s useful to monitor voltage because it tells you about the health of the battery and charging system. On turning the key, the battery should show 12 volts or slightly above without the engine running. Below that value, a new battery may be needed.

Excessive heat reduces battery life. While driving, the voltage should be about 14 volts, showing that the charging system is working properly. Low values close to 12 volts call for a check-up at an auto repair shop.

The thermometer display provided another insight right away. The van was parked in the sun, and the afternoon temperature in Hall County was 96 degrees.

Out of curiosity, I closed all the windows and doors and noted the time. Coming back after 20 minutes, the thermometer showed 120 degrees inside. In that environment, heat stroke and death become an imminent danger to a person or animal in the car. Had I done this at noon and waited longer, the temperature would have risen even higher.

Two weeks ago, told of a volunteer experiment to demonstrate the effect of the heat on a person left in the car. Supervised by a physician, Fire Chief Chip Brantley of Alabaster, Ala., was monitored in a closed-up minivan parked in the sun.

After 25 minutes, the experiment had to be stopped because the healthy 37-year-old’s body temperature and heart rate were approaching the danger threshold for heat stroke.

According to, an average of 37 children die in the U.S. each year by being left in a hot car. Even if it’s just to “quickly run into the store” for milk, a child must never be left in a parked vehicle. If you see one in this situation, 911 should be called immediately.

Dogs are exposed to the risk even more often than children. But even without reliable statistics on pet heat deaths, Tennessee last year enacted a “good Samaritan” law, making it legal to break into a hot car to free an endangered child or animal. A similar provision isn’t on the books in Georgia at this time.

But leaving a child in a hot car can be prosecuted for reckless conduct or second-degree child cruelty.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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