How many children die each year in a hot car?

The answer… too many.

On my 8th anniversary, my wife made me sit in my car without the air on to see how fast the temperature would rise and how long I could stand it. I’m still not convinced she didn’t have an ulterior motive, but nonetheless I felt for myself how quickly the temperature in a car can go from comfortable to deadly.

All kidding aside, hot cars are very dangerous, especially to children and animals who cannot get themselves out when the temperature gets too uncomfortable. Too many children die each year from being left in a hot car. I learned that most of the cases of children dying were unintentional – either the parent/caregiver forgot the child in the car or did not know the child was in the car. In a small percentage of cases, children were left in the car intentionally, perhaps because parents or caregivers did not understand just how quickly it can turn deadly.

From this experiment, I learned several things:

  • 38 children die each year (on average) from vehicular heatstroke
  • 2018 was the worst year for children dying in hot cars since 1990
  • On an 80 degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for a car to reach deadly temperatures
  • The temperature inside your car can reach 125 degrees in minutes
  • In 55% of vehicular heatstroke deaths, children were left in the car unintentionally
  • 27% of vehicular heatstroke deaths were children who got into the car on their own
  • 88% of children who died from vehicular heatstroke were under three years old
  • 54% were babies under the age of 1
  • A child’s body overheats 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s
  • Cracking the windows does very little to help

I also learned from my research that the tragedy of a child dying from vehicular heatstroke can and does happen to anybody. People of all levels of education, socioeconomic status, and ages have tragically lost a child to vehicular heatstroke, and in the vast majority of those cases, it is unintentional. In many of the other cases, it is simply because a parent or caretaker doesn’t realize just how fast a car heats up.

Here are some ideas I found online to help myself and others avoid forgetting children in the car:

  • Leave something you need in the back seat of your car (like your keys or your computer or…gasp…your phone!) to force yourself to look in the back seat before you leave your car.
  • Keep your vehicle locked when it’s in your car or driveway so that kids can’t get in there without you knowing.
  • Teach your kids to honk the horn if they get stuck in the car. (My wife actually walked into the house once assuming my eight year old, who gets out of the car on her own all the time but sometimes acts helpless, was getting out behind her. For whatever reason, she couldn’t open the door like she usually could, so she climbed to the front seat and started honking the horn to alert my wife. really can happen so easily.)
  • If a child is missing at home, immediately check your vehicles (even if they are locked). The child may have climbed in and locked the door themselves.
  • Be especially careful during busy times like changes in routine, like a different parent doing drop-off or when school gets out for the summer. A lot of these tragedies sadly occur when a parent or caretaker is out of the usual routine and simply forgets.
  • Don’t assume it can’t happen to you. It has happened to teachers, doctors, police officers, grandparents, daycare workers, and literally even rocket scientists. It is not a matter of being a bad parent or not being smart enough to know better…we’re all just human and mistakes happen.