Preventing Death from Heat Stroke in Cars

UPDATE 8/11/2017:
An article published by CNN last week notes that the number of children dying of heatstroke while alone in hot cars reached a record high in July. Parents and caregivers should note that the average rise in car temperature within 10 minutes of turning off the car is 19 degrees. Even on an 80-degree day – which is a mild summer day for most of the country – you’re at 109 degrees in 20 minutes inside a car”.

Even a few minutes in a hot car can have a devastating outcome for young children since their central nervous system is not fully developed. Children’s bodies are less able to cope with temperature changes, leading their core body temperature to rise as much as five times more quickly than an adult’s. [3]

Stay safe, everyone.

One of the most easily preventable deaths in the United States is children being left in hot cars. More than three dozen children on average die each year from heat stroke because parents or caregivers leave them “just for a moment,” accidentally forget the child is in the car, or leave children to gain access to a hot car. Yet the majority of states, including Virginia, have yet to enact laws explicitly protecting children from being left unattended in a hot car.

According to, the majority of children (87%) who have died from vehicular heat stroke are age 3 and younger. More than half of deaths involve children age 1 and younger. Many wonder how this can happen. How can an otherwise caring and attentive parent get so busy, distracted, upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just forget a child is in the car? [1] One possible cause is that young children are in rear-facing car seats, which look the same whether they are empty or have a child in them. It can be easy, particularly for new parents who are perhaps inexperienced or sleep-deprived, to forget the child is in the car with them. Babies tend to fall asleep fast while riding in cars, so a quiet baby in a rear-facing car seat might go unnoticed.

The cause of death in these circumstances is due to the greenhouse effect, where unattended (and un-air conditioned) vehicles reach high temperatures extremely fast. According to, the interior temperature of a car can reach 50 degrees higher than it is outside, so a car’s interior can reach blistering temperatures on even mild days. [2] To make matters worse, 80 percent of the total heat rise occurs in the first 30 minutes. Children’s body temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults, so even a quick trip inside the drug store or the bank can be fatal. Despite these facts, only 19 states currently have laws on the books that specifically make it a crime to leave a child unattended in a vehicle.

Death from heat stroke in a hot car is easily prevented. Here are 5 tips to protect your children:

  1. Never leave a child alone in a car. Even a mild day with the windows cracked poses a serious risk for children.
  2. Build a reminder for yourself to always check the back seat. Leave your purse, wallet or cell phone back there to force you into the habit of checking the car seat.
  3. Keep your vehicles locked and keys out of reach. Children are surprisingly capable and may let themselves into a hot car if you aren’t vigilant.
  4. Create a policy with your childcare provider. No one else looking after your child should leave him or her unattended in a vehicle.
  5. If your child is missing, immediately check the car, the backseat, the trunk and other compartments where he or she may have hidden.

Finally, protecting children is all of our responsibility. If you see a child unattended in a car, dial 911. If they seem ill, do what you need to do to get them out of the vehicle immediately.