Children's, Health and Safety

Kids and Hot Cars: Preventing Heatstroke Deaths

Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle related death in the United States. Since 1998, when data first began to be tracked, at least 849 children have died of heatstroke in cars —all preventable.

Marie Crew, director of Safe Kids Alabama at Children’s of Alabama, has tips for parents and caregivers to help prevent any additional tragic deaths related to heatstroke and cars.

Key Facts:

  • The average annual death toll had been 37, but in 2018 and 2019 the death tolls were the highest, 53 and 52 respectively.
  • It doesn’t need be an extreme heat day for heatstroke to happen. The inside of a car can heat up to 109 degrees in just 20 minutes on an 80 degree day.
  • A child’s body temperature increases three to five times faster than that of an adult.
  • When a child’s core body temperature hits 107 degrees, his internal organs begin to shut down.
  • More than half — 54 percent — of child heatstroke deaths occur because a caregiver has forgotten the child in the car.

Help protect kids from heatstroke by remembering to ACT:

  • AVOID heatstroke.
    • CREATE reminders.
    • TAKE action. Call 911, if you see a child in a vehicle alone.

During COVID-19, be especially careful to avoid stress-related tragedies. We know these are challenging times. That’s why it’s more important than ever to remember the proven solutions that prevent injuries and save lives.

“Leave something in the backseat you need at your destination so you’ll remember to check that backseat before you leave your vehicle. It could be your cell phone, wallet, purse or briefcase,” Crew said. 

Never leave your child alone in a car, not even during a quick trip to the store. While leaving your child in the car alone might seem like a good idea during these challenging times, it is not worth the risk. Cars can heat up to dangerous levels in just a short amount of time, even on mild, sunny days – and cracking a window doesn’t help. It’s easy to get distracted or delayed in the store, one of the scenarios that has led to too many unintentional tragedies. This is a time to consider all your options and to find other ways to get your shopping done. Many stores are delivering or offering curbside pickup, neighbors are helping each other by combining trips and leaving the kids home with a sitter may be the best choice.

Keep car doors and trunks locked and keep key fobs out of reach. With many families home and dealing with a new environment and responsibilities, supervision can be more difficult. Kids as young as 1 or 2 years old are known to climb into unlocked cars and trunks to play, but they can’t always get out. Locking your car doors and reminding your neighbors (even those without kids) to do the same provides an important level of protection. It is one less thing to worry about. If, for some reason, you cannot find a child you thought was just outside playing, check cars, trunks and pools first.

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