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Never Leave Your Child Unattended in a Hot Vehicle


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 heat exhaustion.

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 68 degrees.

Even when the windows are cracked, the inside of a vehicle heats up quickly. The biggest temperature increase takes place in the first 10 minutes.

Prevention Tips

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 you lock.”
  • 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.