Since 1998, more than
800 children have died as a result of heat stroke after being left alone in
a car. Of these children, 54% were “forgotten” by their caregiver,
26% gained access on their own, and 19% were knowingly left by their caregiver.
Children who have died from vehicular heat stroke in the U.S. ranged in
age from just 5 days to 14 years old, and more than half of deaths were
children under the age of 2.
Heat stroke is the No. 1 killer of children, outside of car crashes. Although
it may be hard to understand how this can happen, most parents who left
their children unattended forgot or became distracted, or their children
got into the car on their own. As the summer heats up, we encourage all
parents and caregivers to make the following habits:
- After parking your car, lock it. Children who get inside an unlocked vehicle
can become trapped.
- If a child goes missing, check the inside passenger compartments and trunks
of all vehicles immediately.
- If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, call 911.
- Keep car keys out of reach of children.
- Leave your phone (or a similar item) in the back-seat area each time you
buckle your child into the car—this will give you some added insurance
against the unthinkable.
- Make a habit of always checking your back seat.
- Never leave a child alone in a vehicle unattended.
- 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 car.
- Use drive-thru services if they’re available at restaurants, banks,
and pharmacies. Pay for gas at the pump.
The Dangers of Leaving Children in Hot Cars
Even when it feels cool outside, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures
very quickly. The temperature inside a vehicle can increase by
20 degrees within just the first 10 minutes. If the average normal body temperature
is 98.6 degrees and heat stroke occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds
104 degrees, you can see how just a short time in a hot car can become deadly.
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 heat stroke while inside of a car when
the temperature is as low as
In addition to preventing heat exposure and stroke, taking your child with
you when leaving the car prevents:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Siblings harming each other while in the car alone
- The child becoming injured or harmed accidentally
- The child becoming physically injured by a window, door, car lighter, or
other vehicle parts
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.
Young children are at a higher risk because their bodies heat up
three to five times faster than adults. But they’re not the only ones in danger. 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
If you see a pet inside of a car,
notify nearby businesses and ask their managers or security guards to make an announcement to 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.
How to Spot Heat-Related Illnesses
Do you know the warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses like
heat stroke and exhaustion? If your child or loved one is experiencing
any of these conditions, they may be experiencing a heat stroke:
- Fast, strong pulse
- High body temperature (104 degrees or higher)
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Loss of consciousness
Call 911 immediately, especially if the person is unresponsive. Move the
person to a cooler place and help lower their temperature with cool cloths
or a cool bath. Do
not give the person anything to drink.
Though not as serious as a heat stroke, heat exhaustion is often associated
with these symptoms:
- Cold, pale, or clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Tiredness or weakness
If you think your loved one is experiencing heat exhaustion, move them
to a cool place, loosen their clothing, and place cool, wet cloths on
their body. Encourage them to take a cool bath and sip water. Call 911
immediately if they are throwing up, their symptoms get worse, or their
symptoms last longer than an hour.
Don’t Let It Happen to You or Your Loved Ones
It’s important to remember that heat-related illnesses are preventable.
The first step is learning the dangers of leaving children in hot cars
and how to prevent it. Not only is leaving your child unattended dangerous, but
it’s also illegal. In Maryland, there are laws that state leaving a child unsupervised could
be considered child neglect. It’s a crime to leave a child younger
than 8 years old unattended, locked, or confined to a home, car, building,
or other enclosed space without supervision.
Unattended children at any age can get hurt, injured, or even killed without
proper adult supervision. Practice car safety this summer by never leaving
children alone in a car. For additional information or questions,
contact us today.