Children are often killed by being left in cars all around the globe, including in the United States. Although hot car deaths can occur anywhere and can often be unintentionally, they can be prevented by better education and awareness.
This information is vital to your survival as the U.S. experiences warmer temperatures.
Safety statistics for hot cars
- According to Consumer Reports, 38 children per year die from heatstroke due to vehicular heatstroke.
- Heatstroke is the second leading cause for death in motor vehicles for children 14 and younger.
- According to the NHTSA, 25% of hot car death occur when a child enters an unattended vehicle and not because a parent has left them there.
- 882 children died in hot cars between 1998 and 2002. All of these deaths could have been prevented.
Here are some facts about hot car deaths
It’s easy to forget that a child is still asleep in the backseat when you are distracted by all the worries and priorities of your day.
The NHS study shows that the majority of pediatric heatstroke cases are caused by a caregiver forgetting to contact the child. Nearly half of the parents and caregivers who forgot about their child intended to drop them off at preschool or daycare. According to the NHTSA, Fridays and Thursdays are the days with the most deaths.
People don’t realize just how fast a car can heat up on a hot day. In 2020, a four-year old boy died from heat stroke at 78 degrees F. Another boy died in 2005 when the temperature reached 73 degrees F.
How warm are cars?
It takes only 25 minutes for temperature inside a vehicle above 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a day when it is 73°F outside. Weather.gov reports that the majority of temperature rises occur within 15-30 minutes of the vehicle being left unattended. This proves that dangerous temperatures don’t take too long.
Consumer Reports carried out extensive research at its Connecticut Auto Test Track using precision instruments to determine exactly how temperatures affect enclosed vehicles. These are the results:
Jennifer Stockburger, Director of Operations at CR’s Auto Test Center, says that children should not be left alone in a car for any length of time. Even though it isn’t very hot outside, our tests show how quickly the temperatures inside your car rise, regardless of whether you have a dark or light car.
It is not worth taking the chance, especially if a child is at greater risk of heatstroke than other children.
Young children are most affected
Because children are more vulnerable to heat than adults, they are at greater risk of developing PVH. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s body heats three-five times faster than an adult. Children are more likely to become dehydrated because they have difficulty regulating their body’s temperature. At 104°F, a child is considered to have reached the threshold of heatstroke. Death occurs when the body reaches 110°F.
Prevention begins with education and awareness. This guide is for parents and caregivers of children of all ages.
What is the definition of a hot car death
Hot car death, also known as Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH), is the common term used to describe a child who dies in a hot car because of heatstroke or severe heat within an enclosed vehicle.
Interiors of cars, like dark upholstery and leather-wrapped steering wheels, can absorb heat and hold it. This causes the vehicle’s temperature to rapidly rise. The interior heat quickly rises because there is no fresh air coming in to cool it. This can lead to extreme heat and dangerous conditions that eventually prove fatal. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable because they lack the ability or skills to escape from such dangerous situations.
Hot car death warning signs
Heatstroke does not happen immediately. It can happen quickly depending on the temperature. However, there are many warning signs that will let you know that something is wrong.
Hot car death warning signs are to be on the lookout for:
- A core body temperature of at least 104 degrees F
- The skin feels dry and hot.
- Agitation or irritability
- Slogarious speech
- Flushed skin
- Rapid breathing
- Heart rate for racing
These signs should be a sign that you need emergency medical attention.
Updated hot car death statistics
The 2020 hot car death statistics showed a decrease with only half the deaths in 2018 and 2019. The coronavirus still affecting daily activities and social distancing methods, it seems that the new focus on home is serving children well. Fewer people are being affected by PVH. There seems to be a significant decrease in time spent in cars and thus fewer children dying from car accidents.
Historical data shows that since 1998, an average of 39 children have died each year. This accounts for over 880 children.
The Jan Null CCM study from San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science shows that more than half of these cases were simply ignored. Although we can’t expect our everyday worries and distractions to disappear, car manufacturers are working hard to make a difference. Education efforts may also save more lives.
These are just a few of many hot car deaths that the U.S. has suffered.
Although each case is unique, there are certain risk factors that are frequently associated with pediatric vehicular heatstroke.
Children die from being left in cars
The NHS offers a detailed look at 2020 cases that it has examined.
Children can be killed in hot cars, but they are more likely to be children under the age of two. Children aged 14 and under are most likely to experience PVH. However, more than half the child deaths that have occurred since 1998 involve children younger than two years.
Children can die in hot cars anywhere. Every state has seen at least one child killed by pediatric vehicular heatstroke. However, some areas have been more severe historically than others due to geographical factors.
One look at 2020’s cases reveals a concentration of cases in certain areas. Nearly a quarter of PVH cases were in Florida and Texas, which shows that although the risk is everywhere the South is more at risk due to warmer temperatures year round.
The majority of cases reported indicate temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. This can prove to be particularly fatal as the heat rises faster in cars when the temperature is higher. A child who is able to get help sooner than the deadline can have a better chance of survival if it’s cold. Research has shown that temperatures as low as 70 degrees can still be fatal.
The rise in home-based parents has led to an increase in risk. Social distancing mandates are causing children to spend more time in the home, increasing the risk of them becoming trapped. With a stay-at-home lifestyle, the risk of children getting into unlocked vehicles or becoming trapped is greater.
Common dangerous misconceptions
Common myths often lead to the death of children because they believe they prevent PVH. However, they can also be ineffective at preventing harm or exacerbate the situation.
Parents may think that an open window or crack in the window provides enough ventilation. But, depending on the outside temperature, it might not be sufficient to reduce the heat.
“Partially open windows allow heat to escape,” said Jake Fisher, Senior Director of Auto Testing at Consumer Reports. “But as long as the heat source (the sunlight) continues to heat the car’s interior elements, the temperature could stay dangerously high.”
Consumer Reports also addresses the issue of shade in its research. Parents and caregivers might think it’s cool to park their car in shaded areas, but this is not the case.
It states that test results “help dispel the myth hot-car deaths and heat stroke only occur on blisteringly hot summer days.”
Similar results were also obtained by researchers at Arizona State University as well as the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine. It tested identical vehicles in both the sun and shade, and found that even vehicles in the shade are at risk. Their data showed that even in a shaded location, the core temperature of a 2-year-old could rise to 104 degrees F in just two hours.
Consumer Reports discovered that hot car deaths could be largely attributed to the color of your vehicle. Consumer Reports found no evidence that vehicle color was related to temperature.
Is it common to leave your child in a hot car?
Consumer Reports estimates that almost 40 children are killed each year in hot cars. It is possible for this to happen in certain states.
The risk of heat stroke in southern states like Texas and Florida can be year-round due to the consistently warm temperatures. Northern states only have a few months of warm temperatures, which means that there is less chance for child deaths in hot cars. Texas and Florida were responsible for one quarter of all PVH-related cases in 2020.
The U.S. is not the only country where pediatric vehicular heatstroke occurs. Hot cars have been responsible for child deaths in other parts of the country, including countries like Australia or Israel.
Hot car death cases
Without putting a face to the numbers, it’s difficult to comprehend the impact of each loss. These are just some of the many children who died unintentionally from hot car accidents.
- March 2007 – Bryce Balfour, nine months old, died from heatstroke in a car on a hot day of 66 degrees F in Charlottesville.
- May 2017, Caldwell, Idaho – Kyrae Vineyard, five months, died after being trapped in a car for four hours at 76 degrees F.
- July 2019, New York – Luna Rodriguez and Phoenix Rodriguez were 12-month-old twins who died when their father Jose Rodriguez, a social worker, forgot them in his car seat.
- August 2019, Jovany Morales, 6-month-old, was left in a Knoxville car on a day that reached 90 degrees.
- September 2019, June Love Augusto, 2 years old, was left in a car running with the heat on high. She was found with burns to her body and an internal temperature at 107.5 degrees F.
- August 2020 – Two brothers, Daniel Garcia (3 years old) and Ivan Salazar Jr (1 year old), died of heatstroke in Birmingham, Alabama. They had climbed into a hot car and got trapped.
- September 2020 – A newborn was left in a car for hours during a 91 degree F day in Panama City, Florida. He eventually succumbed to heatstroke.
- October 2020 – Sayah, a 21-month old girl, was killed after she was locked in her car. The caregiver refused to open the window because of the high cost of repairs.
Hot car death:
Most parents don’t feel the loss ends with the death or incapacity of their child. The legal repercussions could extend into the family’s lives.
KidsandCars.org examined nearly 500 cases in which a parent or caregiver had forgotten about a child. This led to a hot car death. These cases were treated very differently in the U.S. legal systems, they discovered. It was found that:
- 43% – No charges were filed
- 32% – A caregiver was charged with and convicted
- 11% – No conviction for a criminal charge
- 14% – Cases were still pending, or unsolved
According to the study, a court’s decision whether or not to prosecute or convict a hot-car death depends on many factors. These may vary depending on the circumstances and where the case is being tried.
The case must have sufficient evidence to support the charges. Prosecutors may approach it in different ways. Based on the facts, some prosecutors might be more accommodating than others.
Courts must also consider the science behind it all. They will look at medical records and scientific studies to decide how much guilt should go to the caregiver or parent. The public opinion and outcry may also have an impact on the decision to prosecute or convict. This is why some parents face felony or misdemeanor criminal charges, while others are free to go without any legal consequences.
“All in all there is no rhyme nor reason as to how these cases will be treated,” states Amber Rollins (Director of KidsandCars.org).
Parents may also face legal consequences if they have car insurance. This depends on how the state and carriers deal with various criminal charges.
How to avoid hot car deaths
Many car manufacturers are taking action to reduce the number of child deaths from hot cars and working with parents to find new ways to prevent them. These car manufacturers are using advanced technologies to save lives and provide support for parents.
- GMSin 2017, GM vehicles have the Rear Seat Reminder. This allows the driver to know when the rear door has been opened after the vehicle has been turned on.
Rear Seat Reminder is similar to Nissan’s Rear Door Alert. It detects when a rear doors is opened prior to a trip, and closes again after the trip is over. This feature is standard on the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder and will be available on all four-door models by 2022.
- Hyundai and Kia
Hyundai’s Rear Occupant Alarm integrates motion sensors to make sure all passengers get out safely. When the engine is turned off, drivers are automatically notified to inspect the rear seats. Even if the warning is ignored, the car will continue to detect motion for 24 hours. To attract attention, the car will honk its head for 25 seconds to detect motion.
2020 Highlander has a rear seat reminder system that sends visual and audible reminders to the driver when the rear door opens again after a trip.
Consumer Reports, a key player on Capitol Hill continues to urge policymakers in Congress support the Hot Cars Act of 2019, a key player. This bipartisan legislation would require that all passenger cars in the United States include child safety technology as part of their standard equipment packages to prevent heatstroke.
Ethan Douglas, Senior Policy Analyst at Consumer Reports, states that technology is available to prevent such tragedies. We urge Congress to quickly pass the Hot Cars Act to give parents a simple, reliable, and integrated way to ensure that their child is not left behind when they get in the car.
Keep kids out of hot cars
You, as a parent/caregiver, are best placed to protect your child from pediatric vehicular heatstroke. Here are some tips to help you keep an eye on your children while they roam.
- Teach them that cars don’t belong in a toy.
Children may see motor vehicles as a source for novelty and adventure. Your children should be taught that the car is not a safe place for them to play by themselves. They could accidentally get hurt or trapped without you knowing.
- You can put the keys away.
Your keys should be stored in a safe place, that is not easily accessible by your child. Keep your keys safe from children’s reach and out of their sight.
- Check the pool first, then your car.
Children are most at risk from cars and pools. You should also check the trunks of your vehicle, as they may provide quick access to your child if it is not closed properly.
- Do not leave them even for a second.
While it’s tempting to let the kids ride in the car while you run errands, it can be dangerous for busy parents. It is dangerous to leave your child in a car, even if the windows are open, the window is rolled up, or the spot is shaded.
Safety in hot cars: What you can do
The first step to preventing children from dying in hot cars is awareness.
This is a very difficult problem to combat because it is often an unintentional crime that can have devastating consequences. Driver awareness can help you recognize how quickly an apparently harmless situation can become deadly.
Technology is constantly improving and car manufacturers are able to offer life-saving innovations. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of all drivers and the members of the community that they be aware of potential dangers and harm.
What to do when you see your child in a hot vehicle
Many states have Good Samaritan laws that allow for bypassers to help children who are left in hot cars. There are different rules for children, adults and pets depending on where they live. However, many states have introduced legislation or plan to introduce these protections to the public.
There are some things you can do to protect your child from being left in a hot car until you find a caregiver or parent.
- Make sure the child is alert and responsive.
- You can try to locate the parents with the help of a PA system or security guard.
- You should try to get into the vehicle. You may have to break a window. However, a sheet of glass can be repaired later. It is not worth risking a child’s safety.
Call 911 immediately if the child seems to be in distress. Your help could make a difference in the life of a child.