Since 1998, 726 children have died of heatstroke after being left in vehicles
in the US alone. There have been 29 deaths so far in 2017. All of these
deaths could have been avoided. While some parents may leave their child
in a locked car intentionally thinking that they’ll be okay, the
majority of parents who leave their children inside a hot car do so accidently.
In more than
55% of cases that result in a child dying from heatstroke inside of a car,
the person responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left them
in the vehicle. It can happen to anyone.
Why It’s Dangerous
Each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, hot car deaths peak. Jan
Null, a certified consulting meteorologist, tracks U.S. child vehicular
heatstroke deaths. His research suggests that
more than half of kids who die of heatstroke do so after being forgotten in a vehicle
by an adult.
Heatstroke occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds
104 degrees. The temperature inside a vehicle can increase by
20 degrees in just 10 minutes. Young children are at a greater risk because their
bodies heat up
three to five times faster than an adult’s.
It isn’t just children who are in danger of suffering a hot car death.
Pets are also at risk when left in a car alone. Even if the windows are
cracked, the temperature inside of the car can rise quickly and create
a hazard. If your dog has bright red gums, excessive salivation, dilated
pupils, or an increased heart rate, this could be a sign of
A Risk Even on a Mild Day
Some parents or caregivers may make the mistake of thinking that a child
is safe inside of a car on a day that isn’t excessively hot. In
reality, children have died from heatstroke while inside of a car when
the temperature is as low as
60 degrees. Last April, a 1-year-old boy died in Vestavia, Ala., after being left
inside of a pickup truck. It was just
Even when the windows are cracked, the inside of a vehicle heats up quickly.
The biggest temperature increase takes place in the first
Every hot car death is preventable. Here are some
safety tips to keep in mind so that the unthinkable doesn’t happen to you or
your loved ones:
- Always open the back door to check the back seat and “look before
- Put something you need like your cell phone, handbag, or employee ID in
the back seat so you have to open the back door to retrieve it.
- Place a large stuffed animal in your child’s car seat. When the child
is in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat
to remind you that your child is in the back seat.
- Keep your vehicle locked at all times. Ask visitors to your home, child
care providers, and neighbors to do the same.
- Keep car keys out of reach of children.
- Never leave a child alone in or around a car for any length of time.
- If a child goes missing, check the inside passenger compartments and trunks
of all vehicles immediately.
- Use drive-thru services if they’re available at places like restaurants,
banks, and pharmacies. Pay for gas at the pump.
If you see a child in a car alone,
call 911 immediately. If the child seems sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
If you see a pet inside of a car,
notify nearby businesses and ask their managers or security guards to make an announcement to try
and find the car’s owner. If the owner can’t be found, call
the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control.
Several states have laws that allow animals to be removed from cars if they appear to
be in distress.
Since 1998, there have been an average of
37 child heatstroke deaths per year in the United States. From 1998 through October 2016, more than
700 children died as a result of heatstroke after being left in the car. Of
these children, 54% were left in the vehicle by their caregiver, 28% were
playing in an unattended vehicle, and 17% were left in the vehicle by
an adult intentionally. Children under the age of two
made up more than half of these deaths, while 87% were
age three or younger.
Keep Your Child Safe Around Cars
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of a parent or a caregiver to
keep their child safe in or around a vehicle. Make sure that your child
understands that a car is not a place to play. Lock your doors at all
times so they cannot enter into the vehicle without permission. Never
leave any child alone in or around a car.
Don’t Let it Happen to You
Losing a child in this way is unthinkable, but it happens to caring parents
every year. Following the right safety precautions, and developing a system
to ensure that your child or a child in your care is not left inside a
vehicle, is the first step in avoiding vehicle related heatstroke deaths.