When Hot Cars Become Fatal: Preventing Childhood Death

The thought of leaving your child alone in a hot car may seem unthinkable, but it can happen. In fact, about 40 children die of heat stroke while left in cars every year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

Gina Veres, injury prevention specialist at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital, says, “51 percent of the cases include caregivers leaving their children in vehicles on accident.”

These accidents are likely to occur when a child is sound asleep in the backseat and parents forget they are in the car. It can also happen when a caregiver’s routine is different than normal. “If mom usually drops the baby off at daycare and dad usually picks up, dad might forget he has the baby with him in the car in the morning if he is dropping off,” Veres says.

When a child is left in a hot car, they are at risk of heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to fatal levels. Children are more at risk of heatstroke than adults because their bodies heat up 3-5 times faster.

Veres warns 18 percent of death cases occur when caregivers leave their children in the car on purpose. “Parents think they can run into the store for a couple items and leave their child in the car,” Veres says. “But they don’t realize how fast a car can heat up and how vulnerable their kids are.”

Within 10 minutes, the inside temperature of a car can be up to 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. After 30 minutes, a vehicle’s temperature can be up to 34 degrees hotter. When a child under 14 years old has a body temperature that reaches 107 degrees, they are at risk of heatstroke.

The remaining 29 percent of cases occur when a child is playing unattended in a vehicle. Children can get into unlocked cars in the driveway or garage and lock themselves in. To prevent this, Veres suggests locking your car, even if it is in your garage.

Death from heatstroke can be prevented by everyone. It is important to recognize a potentially fatal situation. “If you see a child alone in a car, call 9-1-1 right away,” Veres advises. “You don’t know how long that child has been in the vehicle.”

Parents can also take preventive measures to make sure this does not happen to their child. “Put something in the back seat you know you can’t leave the car without,” Veres recommends. “Or write a reminder note to tape to the steering wheel to remind you your child is in the backseat.”