For many, a car is not only a mode of transportation that takes you from point A to B, but it is also like a mobile bed where they can sometimes take a nap. While this is common for professional drivers, even lay persons like you and me have, on occasion, have slept inside the car to take a break. At that time, many prefer to keep the Air Conditioning (AC) running for comfort and safety.
Did you know this can be fatal?
Recently, a man in Noida, who was under the influence of alcohol, decided to take a nap inside his car with the AC on, parked in the basement. The next morning, the 30-year-old man was found dead by his family.
According to news reports, he had suffocated from inhaling poisonous gases – mainly carbon monoxide – which was released from the car’s engine. This gas was sucked into the vehicle’s cabin by the AC vent, causing the man to asphyxiate in his sleep.
But, this is not the first time such an incident was reported :
In 2019, a cab driver in Chennai suffocated to death inside his car because he was sleeping with the AC on and the windows closed. According to reports, after the police examined the car and conducted preliminary enquiries it was revealed that he inhaled carbon monoxide that leaked through the AC into the car.
Why does this happen?
The major component in an engine’s exhaust fumes is carbon monoxide, along with a host of other poisonous gases. Carbon monoxide, in large amounts in closed spaces is deadly. Basically, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in your blood, leading to a slow ‘asphyxiation’.
Doctor Sridharan R, a consultant allergist and Asthma specialist who runs an Asthma and Allergy Resource Centre in Chennai, agrees, clarifying that when a person inhales large quantities of carbon monoxide it can lead to a rapid death, because blood cells are suddenly drained of oxygen.
He says, “Every cell in the body needs oxygen to function. When there is contact with carbon monoxide the oxygen in the haemoglobin is converted into carboxyhemoglobin that renders the cells useless and prevents the functioning of tissues. This state is known as hypoxia which can make a person experience intense headache, dizziness, and confusion. If the person is awake and aware they can escape death by quickly stepping outside the car. But, when they are asleep or under the influence of alcohol they will not realise that they are being poisoned. It will be a silent death.”
Unfortunately, though exhaust fumes have an identifiable stench, carbon monoxide is an odourless gas, which makes it hard to realise how much of it you are inhaling in a closed space. Whether in garages, or even basements, we must always take caution before running the engine for too long.
According to an article by Drive Spark, another reason for such deaths is the malfunctioning of the AC. When the AC is old or damaged, the air circulation system is disrupted and the air inside does not get replenished sufficiently. This leads to a spike in toxic gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Maintenance is key- Have your car’s exhaust system checked every year. Before taking your car for a long-distance journey have your AC system checked and get repairs done if there is any damage, blockage or clogged filters.
When you are travelling, if you have to sleep in your car or stay inside for a long time ensure that you take short breaks now and then by stepping out of the vehicle.
Dr Sridhar adds that while sleeping inside a stationary car with the AC on, leave the window partially open to ensure there is some air circulation. Though he firmly suggests avoiding sleeping inside the car as much as possible. Instead, look for a rest area like a hotel where you can be safe and sleep comfortably.