Reminder: Kids & Pets Left In Hot Cars Are Deadly

Reminder: Kids & Pets Left In Hot Cars Are Deadly

I make an impassioned plea to all listeners of both the DFW Car Pro Show and National show every year as temperatures rise about leaving kids and pets in hot cars.  

As we approach National Heatstroke Prevention Day this Sunday, May 1, PLEASE take a minute and read the statistics below and share it with anyone who has a small child or travels with pets in the car.  I update this story every year in hopes that it may get into the hands of parents who leave small children or pets in the car and prevent another child or pet from suffering a horrible, slow, agonizing death.

NHTSA Campaign

The NHTSA says one of the biggest risk factors for heatstroke deaths is a change in routine. As parents and caregivers continue to shift their schedules due to changes in the pandemic, safety experts say the risk of someone forgetting and leaving their child in the back seat increases. 

“An average of 38 children die from heatstroke in hot vehicles each year. Many deaths happen because the morning routine is different – for example, a caregiver taking a child to daycare who typically doesn’t do the drop off,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s NHTSA Deputy Administrator. “We are asking all caregivers to look before they lock because changes in daily routines can lead to tragedy in just minutes.”

The NHTSA'S ongoing $3 million “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” campaign reminds drivers to never leave children unattended in cars and to lock their cars when unoccupied to prevent children from entering unlocked vehicles.  

Car Heat Stroke Statistics

Absorb the numbers below, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Each case ended with the death of a child and the planning of a funeral:

  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2021: 23 
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2020: 25 
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2019: 52
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2018: 53
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2017: 43
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2016: 39
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2015: 25
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2014: 32
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2013: 44
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2012: 35
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2011: 33

Highest # of fatalities for a one-year time period was in 2018: 53.

Most Heat Stroke Deaths Preventable

The sad part is, each of those deaths was avoidable, and the vast majority were accidental. 
From 1998-2021, 895 children died due to vehicular heatstroke. Of those deaths: 

  • 54 percent were forgotten by a caregiver; 
  • 26 percent were playing in an unattended vehicle; 
  • 19 percent were intentionally left in vehicle by an adult; and 
  • 1 percent died under unknown circumstances.

The problem is, many parents don’t understand how quickly temperatures inside their cars can reach life-threatening levels. Children’s body temperatures rise up to five times faster than adults. People often underestimate how quickly temperatures rise in a hot car. Take a look at the rise of the inside of a car versus the outside ambient temperature:

Average elapsed time and inside vehicle temperature rise compared to ambient outdoor temperature:

  • 10 minutes = 19 degree increase
  • 20 minutes = 29 degree increase
  • 30 minutes = 34 degree increase
  • 1 hour = 43 degree increase
  • Over 1 hour = 45 to 55 degree increase

It is easy to see that while most think an 80 degree outside temperature is pleasant, in a short 30 minutes, the inside temperature of a car is 114 degrees.

Note this important fact: a body core temperature of 107 degrees is usually fatal.



There are some common sense things people can do to avoid causing a heatstroke death to children and pets:

  • Never leave a child or pet in an unattended car, even with the windows down or part way down.
  • Remember to always Look Before You Lock. Be sure all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies or pets.
    • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver as a reminder.
    • Place your cell phone, purse, briefcase, or even a shoe in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
  • Always lock your car. If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area
  • Make a look before you leave a routine whenever you get out of the car.
  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school
  • If you see a child in distress in a vehicle – ACT. Call 911 immediately and get help.

New Technology

I review a lot of new cars, and I give kudos to General Motors for coming up with the best system I have seen. It is called Rear Seat Reminder. Many other car companies have implemented similar systems. Some will even text you a warning.  The Rear Seat Reminder works by monitoring the vehicles rear doors. The feature is activated when either rear door is opened and closed up to 10 minutes before the vehicle is started or while the vehicle is running. Once the system is activated, the vehicle is designed to sound five chimes and display a message in the driver information center that reads "Rear Seat Reminder / Look in Rear Seat"  the next time the vehicle is turned off. Believe me, you will not miss this alarm.

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Image Courtesy: NHTSA via Vimeo.
Editors' note: This article has been updated with new information on April 27, 2022.