Why Are Hot Car Deaths on the Rise? Haven’t We Learned Yet?

What do we need to do to keep kids from dying in hot cars? Hot car deaths are on the rise, and the safety features necessary to prevent these deaths are in place. Unfortunately, the new safety devices have a few flaws and aren’t installed on all vehicles, so we could continue to see kids who die because they are left in hot cars.

How many children die in hot cars each year?

Child's Hand on a Car Window might be a signal of a child on the brink of death
Child’s Hand on a Car Window; Could this Child be Trying to Signal They’re in a Hot Car? | Shutterstock

Kids and Cars, a nonprofit that studies the impact cars have on kids, reports an average of 38 children in the United States die each year after being left in a hot car. Nearly 87% of these children are age three or under.

Because most of these children are under the age of three, they don’t have the verbal skills to communicate a reminder to parents leaving them in hot cars. Many of these toddlers are likely asleep when they become the next victim.

What causes death in a hot car?

Child with Red Cheeks in a Booster Seat; a sign of overheating
A Child with Red Cheeks in a Booster Seat; Is This Child Overheating in a Hot Car? | Shutterstock

The main cause of hot car deaths is heatstroke. This occurs when the body is unable to cool itself quickly enough. Children heat up three to five times faster than adults, which is why fevers in children are a serious medical concern. When left in a hot car, the child’s major organs begin to shut down once their temperature reaches 104 degrees.

How long does it take for you to die in a hot car?

Children can die in hot cars within minutes of being left in the vehicle. Here are some of the facts provided by the NHTSA:

  • Heatstroke beings when the core body temperature reaches 104 degrees
  • A child can die once their body temperature reaches 107 degrees
  • 2018 and 2019 had record numbers of hot car deaths – 53 children died each of those years

Isn’t the rear-seat reminder feature supposed to prevent hot car deaths?

Toddler Sleeping in a Car Seat
Toddler Sleeping in a Car Seat; Will the Rear-Seat Reminder Alert Parents the Child is in the Seat? | Shutterstock

The rear-seat reminder feature alerts a driver to check the rear seat if the rear door has been opened or closed. Many automakers have added this feature to various models, and by 2025, the entire auto industry will have these alerts in place.

Part of the problem is the number of alerts a driver might receive while on the road. With safety systems sounding bells, open door alerts, and various other warnings, another bell sounding off is nothing more than white noise. Many drivers might not pay any attention to the rear-seat reminder alert.

Additionally, not all drivers have a modern vehicle with this feature installed. Until it’s installed in every vehicle on the road, there are holes in the impact the rear-seat reminder system can have on hot car deaths.

How do you prevent hot car deaths?

Ensuring you’re more aware when you stop and park your car is always a good measure, but you might need to follow these tips to ensure you don’t leave a child in a hot car.

  • Check the rear seat before you lock the car doors
  • Keep something you need in the rear seat – purse, computer, cell phone, shoe. Etc.
  • Travel with a stuffed animal in the passenger seat – serves as a reminder
  • Always lock the doors – prevents kids from getting into unattended cars
  • Put keys and fobs away – another preventative measure
  • Ask your childcare provider to check if your child is absent
  • If you see something, do something – even if it isn’t your car

The old saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and being part of that village might mean you’re the difference between life and death for a toddler in a hot car.

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