While the number of fatalities of children due to heatstroke in vehicles is not fully known, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other safety advocates and academic institutions have recognized the safety threat heatstroke poses for young children left in hot cars. The federal government, automakers, car seat manufacturers, health and safety advocates, consumer groups, and others are working together to tackle this important safety issue.
KEY POINTS AND STATISTICS
NHTSA says heatstroke in vehicles is the leading cause of all non-crash-related fatalities involving children 14 and younger, representing 61 percent of total non-crash fatalities in this age group.
- Since 1998, there have been 559 heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, an average of 38 per year.
- In 2012 alone, at least 32 children in the United Sates lost their lives after being left in unattended motor vehicles, and an unknown number of others were moderately to severely injured.
- States with higher incidences of fatalities for children 3 and younger include Georgia, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Virginia.
Children’s bodies overheat easily, and infants and children under 3 years old are at greatest risk for heat-related illness.
- Kidsandcars.org shows that 87 percent of children who died from vehicular heatstroke are age 3 and younger.
- A child’s body absorbs more heat on a hot day than an adult’s does.
Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees and the thermoregulatory system is overwhelmed. A core temperature of about 107 degrees is lethal.
Symptoms of heatstroke vary but my include:
- Red, hot and moist or dry skin
- No sweating
- A strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
- A throbbing headache
- Being grouchy or acting strangely
- A review of child heatstroke cases showed that heatstroke fatalities have occurred even in vehicles parked in shaded areas and when the air temperatures were 80 degrees F or less.
- Heatstroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees.
- On an 80 degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.
- In 52 percent of vehicular heatstroke cases the child was “forgotten” by the caregiver.
- In more than 29 percent of cases, a child got into the vehicle on their own.
- Never leave an infant or child unattended in a vehicle, even if the windows are partly open, or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on.
- Don’t let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them a vehicle is not a play area.
- Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
Take steps to remember not to leave a child in a vehicle:
- Write yourself a note and place it where you’ll see it when you leave the vehicle.
- Place your purse, briefcase, or something else you’re sure to need in the back seat so you’ll be sure to see a child left in the vehicle.
- Keep an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. Once the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she leaves the vehicle.
- Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children’s reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
- Ask your childcare center to call you if your child doesn’t arrive on time for childcare.
- If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly (not an ice bath but by spraying them with cool water or with a garden hose).