Skip to main content

Hot car deaths are increasing

An average of 38 children die each year in the United States from heat-related deaths inside vehicles. But 2018 was not average. Last year, that number soared to 52. And this year is already trending to be on pace with 2018, according to Lee Penny, Injury Prevention Manager with Safe Kids Upstate.

With each story about a tragic death of a child from vehicular heat stroke, the online comments are inevitable. Parents are adamant that they would never forget their child. They are too careful, too focused on what is best for their kids. 

That sense of security is a false one and it could be deadly.

“This happens to the best parents,” Penny said. “No one ever thinks it could happen to them.”

A little more than half – 54 percent – of children who died in this way were with a caregiver, while 26 percent get access to the car and become trapped inside. 

“A lot of children think playing in the car and beeping the horn is fun,” Penny said. 

South Carolina winters don’t provide much protection. Penny said deaths have occurred in 11 of 12 months in Greenville County. 

“Vehicles can heat up 30 – 40 degrees within a matter of minutes,” she said. 

There are some commonalities in these deaths. Penny said a change in routine is often to blame. Maybe a different person is usually responsible for dropping a child at day care. Because many of the deaths happen before baby’s first birthday, it could be simply that a new parent is struggling with sleep deprivation and the brain goes on autopilot. 

Penny said parents should have an honest conversation with caregivers who will be transporting their child. It is also important to have a series of backup systems in place.

“Ask the day care to call if they are 10 minutes late and it is not a planned absence,” she said. 

While Safe Kids does not endorse products, Penny said several are now available or will soon be on the market that are designed to help project children from being left in the car. Evenflo SensorSafe car seats build technology into the chest clip that reminds parents of the child in the car and can also alert parents if the clip is unbuckled while traveling. General Motors’ Rear Seat Reminder system monitors the opening and closing of the rear doors before the vehicle is running and sends a reminder accordingly once the vehicle is turned off. eClip Baby Reminder ( connects to anything in the back seat and sends an alerts when the parent’s phone is more than 15 feet away from the car. 

Some parents use low tech options to help them remember, such as putting their purse or phone in the back seat whenever the child is buckled in or putting on a lanyard that isn’t removed until the child is removed as well. 

“Any steps to create a visual reminder is something we applaud,” Penny said. 

It is also important to teach children that they should never enter a car without an adult – though that is not a replacement for active supervision. 

“If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, stay with that child next to the vehicle and call 911 right away,” Penny said. 

Learn more at https://www.kidsandcars.organd