Vehicular heatstroke has already claimed the lives of 10 children in the U.S. this year.
Providence, RI, July 7, 2023 — With record hot temperatures upon us this year, AAA reminds motorists to take extra precautions to make sure children and pets are not left in vehicles. Deaths due to heatstroke often occur when caregivers forget a child in a car, or simply do not realize how quickly temperatures rise in an enclosed vehicle.
As of July 6, 2023, 10 children have died in the United States as the result of vehicular heatstroke. In 2022, this preventable tragedy claimed the lives of 33 children, and 950 children have perished in hot vehicles since 1998, the year pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths were first recorded.
On a summer day, leaving a child or a pet inside a vehicle for less than 10 minutes can prove fatal. Children and pets cannot regulate their body temperature like adults, and their bodies heat up three to five times faster. Heatstroke is clinically defined as core body temperature of 104 degrees, the temperature where brain and organ damage begins, and can be deadly. Even on a 70-degree day, with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a closed vehicle can reach over 115 degrees in less than 15 minutes. An examination of media reports covering 938 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths for a 25-year period (1998 through 2022) shows the following circumstances:
– 52.61% – Forgotten by caregiver (496 children)
– 25.29% – Gained Access on their own (237)
– 20.28% – Knowingly left by caregiver (190)
– 1.81% – Unknown (17)
It is important to note that when children are forgotten in the vehicle by their caregiver, it is common that there was a change in the normal daily routine, such as a parent dropping the child off at daycare who would not normally have that responsibility. More than a quarter of heatstroke tragedies are caused by children gaining access to a vehicle on their own, without a parent or caregiver realizing. Examples include young children playing games such as “hide and go seek” and entering a hot vehicle to be quickly overcome by hyperthermia. For this reason, it is critical to lock parked vehicles to reduce this risk.
Unfortunately, children are often knowingly left in a vehicle; approximately 20% of these deaths occur because a caregiver left the child intentionally, yet not necessarily maliciously. Young children are left to “finish a nap” or the caregiver runs into a store or business to complete an errand without the child, not realizing the danger or how quickly brain damage can occur. Twenty-one states, including Connecticut and Rhode Island, have laws preventing caregivers from leaving children unattended in a vehicle.
If you see a child or pet left alone in a vehicle, dial 9-1-1 to report the incident and, if necessary, take action to remove them. Never leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle. “Look before you lock” your vehicle and when you exit, keep the vehicle locked so a child cannot gain access.
AAA Northeast has created these short educational videos covering steps motorists should take to protect their children and their dogs. For videos on this topic, please click links: