Hot Car Deaths: Cars Get Hotter Than You Think

sleeping infant in closed car at risk for hot car death
More than 1,000 children have lost their lives to hot car deaths over the past three decades. Here are some tips to keep your own child safe.

Cars get hotter than you think, even before summer arrives. The temperature inside your car can reach 100° in just 25 minutes, even when outside, it’s only 73°. A child’s body temperature, meanwhile heats up three to five times more quickly than that of an adult. That means a child can die in minutes, when left in a hot car. You don’t have to forget a child for that to happen—you may just be running into the dry cleaners to pick up some shirts, while Johnny sits in the backseat of the car, patiently waiting for your return.

Hot Car Deaths and Children—the Stats

How serious is the risk to children for dying of heatstroke in a hot car? Statistics don’t lie. Over 1,000 children aged 14 and below died in hot cars over the past 3 decades. Of those children, 87 percent were 3 years or younger, while 54 percent were only one year or younger.

Don’t believe you’d ever leave your child behind in a car? Some 56 percent of hot car child fatalities were due to children left behind, unknowingly, by a parent. In 26 percent of these tragic deaths, a child got into a car on his or her own. Perhaps the worst percent to note is the 15 percent of cases in which a child was deliberately left in a car by a parent—possibly a parent picking up the dry cleaning—but too often due to ignorance or even criminal intent. The results? Already this year, two children have died of heatstroke.

Maybe you thought it would be okay to leave your child for a minute or two. After all, you cracked the window open for air, and there’s a cooling breeze outside. Science, however, shows that leaving the window open a crack has no effect on the rising temperature of a closed car.

Hot Car Safety—A Checklist

No parent goes to school to learn how to raise or keep their children safe. That doesn’t mean you can’t printout and refer to a checklist. Print this out—even a few copies—and keep it handy. Refer to it often. It’s one important way to keep your child alive and well.

  • Never leave your child alone in the car
  • Keep your handbag or wallet in the backseat of your car, next to your child—if your little one is quiet or sleeping, you might not remember he or she is there—which is how they get left behind in the first place. It could be your spouse’s turn to drop off the baby at daycare, but you handbag or wallet is something you always keep with you.
  • Put something that belongs to your child on the front passenger seat, such as a diaper bag, pacifier, or baby bottle. This will serve as a visual cue that your child is with you, today.
  • Develop the habit of always opening the backdoor of your car, every time you park. That way you’ll never leave anything important behind—another good reason to leave your wallet or handbag there.
  • Leave instructions for your child’s daycare center to call you if the child doesn’t arrive as expected. An unnecessary phone call may interrupt you in the middle of a meeting, but it could save a life.
  • Make sure your child cannot get into your parked car.
  • Keep your vehicle locked whenever it is parked—especially when the car is parked in your garage or driveway. Suggest to all visitors and neighbors that they do the same.
  • Take steps to keep your child from leaving your home unnoticed to prevent them from getting into your car. You can purchase childproof doorknob covers and alarms that prevent any unnoticed exit by your child from the house.
  • Teach your children to honk the horn or turn on the hazard lights, in case they get stuck in a car.
  • Can’t find your child? The first place to check is your car. Don’t just peek into the car window. Check the floorboards and trunks. Not just of your car, but all cars in the vicinity, even if the doors are locked.
  • Don’t leave children alone in a parking lot—or anywhere near cars—even for a minute.
  • See a child alone in a car? Don’t simply walk by. Call 911. You’d want someone to do the same for your child. While you wait for help, see if you can get the child out of the car on your own.
  • When life is extra hectic, make sure you take the extra time to double check that no one is left behind. Most hot car deaths occur during a crisis or on a holiday.
  • Do some research into local drive-thru services, for example pharmacies, restaurants, banks, and dry cleaners, so you never have to leave your child alone, even for a few minutes.



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