Number of Children Who Die in Hot Cars Spikes: But Why?

Safe Kids USA shared a sad milestone this week. The number of children to die from heat stroke after being left alone in a car reached 500. In the United States, an average of 38 children die this way each year.

The Danger of Leaving Kids Alone in the Car

According to Safe Kids USA, “heat stroke (also known as hyperthermia) occurs when a body’s thermostat is overleaded with heat; children are at a great risk of this as their body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than adults.”

This Public Safety Announcement from Kids and Cars warns parents of the danger of forgetting your child.

Are Rearfacing Seats To Blame?

Car safety experts know that it is safest for babies and small children to be in a rear-facing seat in the car. In the event of a crash, they are best protected that way. This past March, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its car seat recommendations. The new policy recommends that children remain rear-facing until the age of 2, unless they reach the maximum height and weight of the car seat at an earlier age.

Dr. Dennis Durbin, the lead author on the AAP’s new policy statement, explains that: “A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.” The AAP says that deaths of children in motor vehicle crashes are decreasing, but are still the leading cause of death of children ages four and older.

While experts agree that a rear-facing seat is the best place for the child to be in the case of a collision, some experts are now questioning whether that puts them at a greater risk of being forgotten in a car. According to Parent Central, “the last time experts pushed a new campaign to put more children in rear-facing seats — in the 1990s, to cut the chances of being killed by air bags — the number of children who died in hot cars spiked.” They go on to explain that more children died from being forgotten in cars than from air bags.

It Won’t Happen to Me

Most parents believe this could never happen to them. In the Safe Kids press release, Reggie McKinnon, a father who left his 8 month old in the car when he went to work, was quoted as saying: “Before this accident, every time I would read of a child dying in a parked car of hyperthermia, I too would ask, ‘how could they forget their child?’ I would never do that. That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug-addicts, not me.”

Parent Central reports that it is often parents who are tired, distracted, stressed or who have made changes to their routine who end up forgetting a child in the car. It can be a costly mistake. These parents not only lose their baby, but they are also often perceived as monsters and sometimes even charged with manslaughter and child abuse.

What Can Parents Do?

Although the concern about rear-facing seats is understandable, I don’t think that the solution to one safety problem needs to come from ignoring another safety issue. If parents want to keep their children as safe as possible in the car, but also remember to take them out when they get to their destination, what can they do?

Parent Central reports that there are companies developing technical solutions to help parents remember that their child is in the backseat. This includes simpler solutions like playing “Twinkle Twinkle” when the car stops as well as more technically advanced ones that would sound an alarm if a child is left in the backseat. 

Other parents have developed their own approaches, such as leaving their purse in the back seat below the car seat so that they have to look in the back to get it out.

When our children were rearfacing, we used a child mirror that allowed us to see them whenever we looked in the rear view mirror. For a driver following normal safety precautions and looking in the rear view mirror regularly, this means that there would be a constant reminder that the child is there. While we didn’t purchase the mirror specifically to ensure that we never forgot the baby, I’m sure that having it did contribute to remembering that the baby was there.

What do you do?

What do you do to help ensure that you won’t forget your baby or toddler in the car?

Related stories:

Why Can’t They Design a Better Children’s Car Seat?

New Child Car Seat Recommendations: Does Your Child Fit?
Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.


Image: Annie Urban


Claudette Lariviere


Terry V.
Terry V6 years ago

noted : (

Saleem K.
Saleem Khan7 years ago

here's the rest of my post :) ...
License to drive through the city of life,
You need to show some love and caring.

By Saleem Khan

There are other poems many with insights into the life of children and their suffering. The world has become de-sensitized to the pain and suffering of people and especially children. Help me to change this. I have put a lot of my heart and soul into this collection and included my original artwork that sets the environment and theme of each poem. It's a small colourful collection of poems that can open the eyes and hearts of people.

If you would permit me to do this here I would like to share the link where you can find the Collection called FACES published online: www(dot)createspace(dot)com/3457590

You can find out more if you search on Facebook with : S.K.KHAN

Help me to generate sensitivity and awareness in out global society please. Share this info if you can.

FACES can be an inspiring gift this Christmas.

Thank you.

Saleem K.
Saleem Khan7 years ago

Some time ago I published an original collection of poetry that highlighted the plight of the HOMELESS. In that collection there is a poem about PARENTING. These are poems with a Caribbean flavour and this one in particular tells that you need to get a licence to drive a car but you don't need to get a licence to be a parent. Why is that exactly? Driving through the city is easier than driving through life as a PARENT. The poem tries to make people see that PARENTING is a serious job and state of life and that you need to be prepared to BE a parent as you would learn and be tested to DRIVE a car. I wrote this collection of unique poems to generate sensitivity to aspects of life that people close their eyes to. I would like to share this poem with all of you.

License to drive through the city of lights,
You must qualify, pass the grade, take the test,
License to drive through the city of life,
You can do what you want, when you want, just make a mess,
You need a license to bring a car on the road,
You must buy gas, pay insurance, that’s your load,
You need no license to bring a life in to the world,
You must give love, pay bills, your life is sold,
It takes a good mechanic to get through the city of life,
When the car breaks down he must fix it,
A good mechanic never blames his child or his wife,
He finds the problem and the solution for it,
License to drive through the city of lights,
You need to know some engineering,
License to drive through t

Ameer T.
Ameer T7 years ago

If you were willing to drive the child to work, be courtous enough to take the child with you to office as well.

Heat is just one thing that this article highlights. What if someone hits your parked car with your baby in it? In their haste to get away they may not even notice the injured child. Or what about Dumb crooks who may steal the car without checking the back seat for sleeping babies? I am certain crooks are in a hurry to make away the stolen car without bothering to check things out first. Or what if the car loses its brakes with the baby in it?

Jennifer S.
Jennifer S.7 years ago

As annoying as it may be, how about a loud dinging OUTSIDE the car as long as the engine is off and a rear seatbelt is still engaged until the rear door near it is opened? It's a small annoyance but most people will try to stop the dinging. Also the lights need to stay on inside longer than typical if seatbelts are still engaged before automatic shutoff. Of course these features would only help in newer that honestly would not save a lot of the children. Too bad there's no way they could be automatically climate/oxygen controlled when off. The sad thing is that it doesn't matter what new features they design because many people cannot afford new vehicles. The same as improving our environment....people are far more interested in making money than replacing old vehicles for more energy efficient ones for people who cannot afford newer vehicles. I guess I am paranoid when it comes to my little ones. I constantly checked even when I didn't have them with me...and I always carried the carrier in with the child when my little ones were that small.

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Stupidity! Rush!

Cheryll Bennett
Cheryll Bennett7 years ago

@Lioralourie P, where is the data on these tragedies? I'm sure if you contact they will make sure the information gets added to the data. Thanks for the heads up.

Lioralourie P.
LOURIE P7 years ago

Special Needs children are forgotten in vans by their supposed school "care" givers all the time.

Probably a hundred a year die this way. Where's the outrage about that?

Will Rogers
Will Rogers7 years ago

Sometimes it's accidental, sometimes its deliberate. people have been killing their kids for thousands of years. Drowning them, pushing them off high places, poisoning them with garden berries.. Anyway they can get away with it. I know I sound cynical but I've seen so many people that hate their kids or resent them because it stops them leading the life they want to lead.
My children grew up without me killing them. But there were many times I looked at them individually and wondered how much better my life could have been without them. And as for my eldest! Anyway! Enough of my warped mind! 
There needs to be safety features to save pets and infants, built into cars. Don't know how they'd do it, but no doubt there's some innovative genius out there able to do it.