Children dying from heatstroke in cars, either because they were left or became trapped, has increased in recent years. In 2018 and 2019, a record 53 children died of vehicular heatstroke each year. In 2020, during the public health emergency, 25 children lost their lives in hot cars, and in 2021 four children have died.
The majority of hot car deaths — 53% — happen because someone forgets a child in a car. You may be asking yourself: How does this happen? Families who lost a loved one thought the same thing at one point, but then the tragedy happened to them. In 2019, we saw the highest number of deaths, 53, because children were forgotten, according to Jan Null, who has been tracking vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1998. Among the trends he discovered over the years:
- About 46% of the time when a child was forgotten, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at a daycare or preschool.
- Thursdays and Fridays — the end of the workweek — have had the highest deaths.
- Nearly 75% of children who are forgotten and die are under 2 years old.
Tips for Keeping Children Safe
Check for Baby
Parents and caregivers, get in the habit of always looking inside your car before locking the doors. Remember: Park. Look. Lock. And always ask yourself, "Where's Baby?"
- Place a briefcase, purse, or cell phone next to the child’s car seat so that you’ll always check the back seat before leaving the car.
- Keep a stuffed animal or another memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty. Move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.
- Set a rule for your child care provider; have them call you if your child doesn’t arrive as scheduled.
Everyone Should Keep Their Car Locked
Vehicular heatstroke deaths don’t just happen when a child is forgotten. The second leading cause — 26% — of such deaths are children getting into unattended vehicles. Get in the habit of always locking your car doors and trunk, year-round. The temperature inside a car can reach over 115 degrees when the outside temperature is just 70 degrees.
- Never let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them a vehicle is not a play area.
- Keep car keys out of a child’s reach.
- If a child is missing, quickly check all vehicles, including the trunk.
Never Leave a Child Alone
While all types of vehicular heatstroke deaths are preventable, the third leading cause of these deaths — knowingly leaving a child — is the most preventable. Never leave a child alone in a parked car, even with the windows rolled down or the air conditioning on. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s.
See a Child Alone in a Vehicle?
If you see a child alone in a vehicle, make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
- If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents; if at a public place, have the facility page the car owner over an intercom system.
- If the child is not responsive and appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child—even if that means breaking a window. Many states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.
Remember: Kids and hot cars can be a deadly combination. Don’t take the chance. Always look in the front and back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away. Help spread the word on social media, #HeatstrokeKills #CheckforBaby.