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Kids & Pets In Hot Cars: A Deadly Killer Of The Innocent

Written By: Jerry Reynolds | May 9, 2024 12:02:45 PM

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.  
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 deaths. 
-Jerry Reynolds, The Car Pro

It will likely hit 100-degrees in my hometown soon, so it is time for our annual reminder of the dangers of leaving children and pets in hot cars. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicular heatstroke is one of the leading causes of non-crash, vehicle-related death for children 14 and younger in the United States.   According to NHTSA, in 2023, 29 children died of heatstroke after being left in a hot car, down from 33 the year prior. Since 1998, when safety advocates first began tracking, vehicular heatstroke has killed more than 965 children.  

To help prevent hot car deaths, this year NHTSA launched a new Stop. Look. Lock. prevention campaign designed to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of heatstroke and to always check a locked car before leaving.  If someone sees a child left in a hot car, they should immediately call 911. Vehicles can heat up very quickly, with temperatures rising 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, creating a deadly situation for a child locked inside.  


“The inside of a vehicle is never a safe place for a child to play or be left alone, because hot cars can be deadly for children in a matter of minutes. No one wants to think they could forget their child, but the facts show it can happen to anyone. Our Stop. Look. Lock. campaign educates and empowers parents and caregivers to make simple changes to prevent unimaginable tragedies,” said Sophie Shulman, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator.

Even on a cool, 60-degree day, a child can die in a hot car. Cracking the windows or parking in the shade does little to protect a trapped child, as children’s bodies warm three to five times faster than adult bodies. 

The NHTSA cites the three main scenarios in which heatstroke occurs:

    1. Children are forgotten in vehicles by parents or caregivers.
    2. Children gain access to unlocked vehicles and become trapped inside.
    3. Children are knowingly left in vehicles by parents or caregivers.

NHTSA data shows that approximately 58% of heatstroke deaths occur when the child is at home, followed by 23% of deaths occurring at a parent or caregiver’s work. Additional stats show:

  • More than half (52.6%) of these tragedies occur when a child is “forgotten” by a parent or caregiver and left in a hot car. A busy parent or caregiver may unintentionally forget that a quiet or sleeping child is in the back of the vehicle.
  • Nearly one-third of these tragedies occur with children under one year of age.

NHTSA further reports that by the end of 2023, Texas and Florida had the highest number of child heatstroke deaths. Additional states at the highest risk for heatstroke deaths per capita are Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Arizona.

Car Heat Stroke Statistics

Absorb the numbers below. Each case ended with the death of a child and the planning of a funeral:

  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2023: 29
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2022: 33 
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2021: 23 
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2020: 25 
  • Child vehicular heatstroke deaths for 2019: 53 
  • 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

Many people often underestimate how quickly temperatures rise in a hot car.  Internal vehicle temperatures can raise quickly and become up to 50 degrees warmer than the outside air temperatures. So even if it’s a cool day outside, a vehicle may still pose a threat to a child. A child’s body temperature increases 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.

  • Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees. 
  • A child can die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees

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.

This video demonstrates the temp inside of a car versus the outside ambient temperature:


Pets In Hot Car Dangers

Leaving a pet in a hot car can have catastrophic results, too.  Although stats are not kept on animals dying inside hot vehicles, it is believed to be in the hundreds.  Keep this in mind:

  • Heatstroke can happen within 15 minutes in dogs. Canines that are either older or very young, as well as those with health problems, are more likely to succumb to heatstroke than dogs in prime health.
  • One of the first signs of heatstroke can be restlessness and discomfort.
  • Your dog may be panting or have trouble breathing, and start to cry or bark for help.
  • If confusion and disorientation set in, it is critical to get your pet to their vet right away.
  • If lethargy takes over, it may be too late for your dog to recover.

Preventing Vehicular Heatstroke

NHTSA urges all parents and caregivers to do these three things to help prevent child heatstroke:

  • When getting out of a car, make it a habit to look in the back seat EVERY time.
  • NEVER leave a child in a vehicle unattended, even for one minute.
  • ALWAYS lock the car and put the keys out of reach. 

If a bystander sees a child in a hot vehicle:

  • Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
  • If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents or have the facility’s security or management page the car owner over the PA system.
  • If there are two people around, one person should actively search for the parent while the other waits at the car.
  • If the child is not responsive or appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child — even if that means breaking a window. Some states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.

Warning signs of heatstroke include:

  • red, hot, and moist or dry skin;
  • no sweating;
  • a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse;
  • nausea;
  • confusion; or
  • acting strangely.

If a child exhibits any of these signs after being in a hot vehicle, quickly spray the child with cool water or with a garden hose — NEVER put a child in an ice bath. Call 911 or a local emergency number immediately.

For more details click here.

Image Courtesy: Ad Council/YouTube.