Hot Car Accidents and Tragedies

Accidents and Tragedies

A baby left in a hot car can quickly get too hot and suffer heat stroke.
A baby left in a hot car can quickly get too hot and suffer heat stroke, which can lead to a high fever, dehydration, seizures, stroke and death. Photo © Vincent Iannelli, MD

A child dying in a hot car was once a relatively rare event. In the early 1990s, only about four to five kids a year died in hot cars. Unfortunately, those numbers have grown tremendously, to where we now have about 40 to 50 deaths a year.

Why the big difference?

I don't think any one factor has ever been found to be a cause, but the rise in the automation in our cars certainly has to be a factor. While you once had to manually roll up all of the car windows and lock the doors, you can now do all of that with a push of a button.

Was that extra step enough of a reminder that you had a baby in the car?

Hot Car Deaths

There were 24 hot car deaths in 2015 - the lowest number since 1998, when records started being kept.

So far this year, in 2016, there have already been at least 19 hot car deaths, which is fairly average. June through August are not surprisingly when most hot car deaths occur though, so unfortunately, we can expect that number to rise.

Some recent hot car tragedies include:

  • a 6-month-old in Des Moines, Iowa who died after he was left in a hot car for an extended period of time while his father was in a barber shop (the father had originally given a different story about what happened). (2016)
  • an 8-month-old in Baton Rouge, Louisiana who died after her father forgot to take her to daycare, instead leaving her in a hot car while he went to work. (2016)
  • a 4-month-old, the son of a local police officer, in Rome, New York who died in a hot car in his family's driveway. (2016)
  • a 19-year-old special needs student in Whittier, California who died after he was likely forgotten on a school bus all day. (2015)
  • a 4-month-old in Corpus Christi, Texas who was forgotten in a hot car by his father after he returned home from running an errand. His 16-month-old sister was also in the car, but survived. (2015)
  • an 11-month-old in Chickamauga, Georgia who was forgotten in a hot car after his family returned home from church. (2015)
  • a 13-month-old foster child in Edgemere, Maryland who was left in a hot car outside a church when her mother went to work inside, forgetting to take her to the daycare next store. (2015)
  • a 4-year-old in Las Vegas, Nevada who was forgotten in a hot car outside his home by his grandfather who had been out running errands. (2015)
  • a 5-year-old with autism in Burleson, Texas who had wandered out of his home and into an unlocked car. (2015)
  • a 22-month old in Baton Rouge, Louisiana died after she was left in a hot car for at least two hours by her daycare workers. (2015)
  • an 18-month-old in Panama City, Florida died after she was left in a hot car by her mother as she went inside a school to teach for the day. (2015)
  • a 16-month-old in Lake City, Florida died after being left in a hot car. Her father forgot to take her to daycare that day and she was found in the car outside the family's home later that day. (2015)
  • a 2-year-old infant in Phoenix, Arizona died after he was left in a hot car after his father drove to a liquor store, bought a bottle of gin, drank it on the way home and forgot the toddler in the car. (2015)

When you realize that a car can quickly heat up to almost 110° F in only 15 minutes when it is 83° F outside, even when the car's windows are rolled down a little, it is not hard to understand why these tragedies happen. When the temperatures outside get up to 100° F, a car can heat up to 172° F.

Kids in Hot Cars

A review of the hot car tragedies shows the four main ways that kids can die in hot cars, including that they:

  • are left in a car by mistake when a parent forgets to drop them off at daycare
  • are forgotten on a bus or day care van by a worker transporting them to school or daycare
  • get in the car or trunk to play and then can't get out and become trapped
  • are left in a car by a parent or other caregiver who simply doesn't want to bring the child inside with him or her

Hot car tragedies are not all about parents forgetting to drop off their kids at daycare. Kids slipping out of the house and into an unlocked car, often into the trunk, is another common way kids die in hot cars.

And of course, some people simply don't understand the risk of hot cars and intentionally leave their kids in a hot car as they go shopping or run errands.

Since these tragedies continue to happen to families that would never think that they could leave their child in a hot car, it is important to remember to take precautions so it really doesn't happen to your kids, such as:

  • keeping your car locked and your keys out of reach, so kids can't get in the car by themselves
  • placing a reminder in the back seat, such as the keyless entry remote that locks a car (put it on a keychain separate from the car keys), your purse, wallet, briefcase, or anything else that you typically take with you and can't do without
  • consider locking your car manually instead of using the remote, so that you might remember if you left your baby in the car and always Look Before You Lock
  • putting something on the dashboard, your keychain (like a pacifier), or car window to remind you that your baby may be in the car
  • asking your daycare provider to set up a system where they call if you don't show up with your baby and haven't called in sick
  • when you get home, bringing your baby inside the house first and then bringing in the groceries so that you don't get distracted inside the house and forget your baby outside in the car
  • be extra cautious when you break your typical routine, since that is when most hot car accidents happen

And of course, never leave your child in the car. If you see kids alone in a car, call 911 and help make sure the kids get out quickly. Even with the windows rolled down a little, it doesn't take long for a car to heat up to the point that kids can get heat stroke.

Also, remember that when a child is missing, in addition to checking the backyard pool and any other bodies of water, be sure to check inside the car and trunk of any nearby vehicles.

KidsAndCars.org. Child Vehicular Heat Stroke Deaths By Calendar Year.

National Highway Traffic Safety Association. Unattended Children and Cars. Accessed July 2011.

Null, Jan. Fact Sheet - Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles. Accessed August 2014.

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