Deaths Rise of Kids Accidentally Left in Car

Heat Exposure Can Kill Children Quickly

baby sleeping in car

When temperatures rise, so does the risk of an unthinkable tragedy of kids accidentally left strapped in a car seat and dying from excessive heat exposure. Parents and relatives are not the only ones who forget a child in the back seat while going to work or running errands; each year there are reports of child care providers who accidentally leave kids in a daycare bus or van. According to an Associated Press analysis, the number of incidents of child heat-exhaustion deaths from being left in a hot car has risen dramatically since the mid-1990s.


Some studies suggest that the safety movement to place children in the back seat of cars (instead of the front seat, where children were much more visible to drivers), is a possible reason. In addition, the safety advice to place infants in cars facing backward even further removes the child from the driver's vision. Of course, the findings in no way suggest that parents should place their children in the front seat. The analysis is intended as only a possible explanation as to "why" the occurrences are increasing, and for drivers to remain extra alert of their precious cargo in the back seat.

News reporting of these incidents tends to suggest "bad" or "neglectful" parents, caregivers or drivers. In most cases, a child is extremely well-loved and doted upon; it's just a tragic ending to a forgetful episode that results in a life or lives lost. Usually, charges are filed, with penalties resulting in convictions and jail time.

The tragedy often tears families apart.

Several parenting-based organizations are dedicated to emphasizing the potential dangers of kids and vehicles and promoting ways to keep kids safe in and around automobiles. Kids in Cars and Kids and Cars are non-profit organizations that track child deaths and accidents in and around vehicles.

The sites also serve as advocates for highway and auto safety to create and enhance basic safety regulations designed to keep kids safe.

While there are no safety standards in place to inform drivers of small occupants in a vehicle, some technology devices or simple safety reminders do exist. Products range from inexpensive "child in car reminders" that are attached to a driver's key ring or a visor clip to NASA's sophisticated Child Presence Sensor. According to a press release, the Child Presence Sensor is designed to hang on the driver's key ring when a child is placed in a car seat and sounds 10 warning beeps if the driver moves too far away from the vehicle. Further, if the driver doesn't return within a minute, the alarm will beep continuously. The sensor switch triggers when a child is placed in a car seat and deactivates when the child is removed.

An emphasis on safety is apparent with new concept cars and late-model vehicles (all with a price tag, of course). Volvo features a personal car communicator option that can detect a heartbeat inside the vehicle. After-market options can include viewing mirrors and monitors.

But parents don't have to purchase a safety device in order to have reminders that their infant or youngster is in the car.

Having a visual reminder such as a pacifier or other small baby item on their keychain can serve as a visual reminder. A sticky note with the word "baby" can be stuck on the dash, or even a small picture of a baby placed in a highly prominent position that the driver can't overlook. Daycare center operators driving multiple children can utilize body counts, two-part tagging systems (where a driver collects one part as kids board a bus and then re-distributes them when they exit), or a simple name roster check-in/check-out system to offer additional safety assurance. Parents can set up a simple "reminder" system for babysitters, grandparents or other relatives watching their young kids as a memory jogger as well.

Because in the end, as is reported every year in dramatically increasing numbers, the unimaginable tragedy can and does occur.

Updated by Jill Ceder