Children Suffering Heatstrokes in Cars Reach Record Number: NHTSA Report

As hotter weather settles in throughout the U.S., federal regulators are warning about the increasing number of children suffering heatstrokes after being left in hot vehicles, with nearly a dozen incidents already reported this year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a new child vehicular heatstroke fatality report this month, indicating that typically there are an average of 38 child deaths every year from being left in an overheated vehicle. However, the eleventh death of 2019 was already reported as of June 8, and high temperatures have not yet been seen in much of the country.

As the U.S. enters the summer months, federal safety officials are urging parents and caregivers to be aware of this serious and preventable risk, which not only occurs when a child is forgotten in the backseat, but many such deaths involve children who get into unattended and unlocked vehicles.

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According to the report, 52 children died of heatstroke after being left in a vehicle in 2018, which is the highest number recorded in the last 20 years. It marked the third consecutive annual increase in U.S. child vehicular heatstroke deaths.

This year is on track to set a new record as temperatures rise nationwide. The latest fatality was reported on June 8, involving a three month old girl who died after being left in a hot vehicle in Butler County, Kansas. According to first responders, the child’s mother had returned home from a baby shower earlier in the day and left her infant in the backseat of the vehicle for several hours while she went inside and took a nap.

Since 1998, the U.S. has recorded 806 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths with more than 54% of all fatal incidents involving children under the age of two years old, according to

The report found approximately 54% of vehicular heatstroke cases since 1998 were the result of a parent or guardian forgetting about the child in the back seat. Of these, 44% of caregivers reported meaning to drop the child off at daycare or preschool and left them in the back seat as they went to work or ran errands.

Data indicates nearly 19% of vehicular heatstroke cases were the result of a parent or guardian knowingly leaving the child in the vehicle while they ran errands or made other stops. Often, parents and caregivers running errands may intend to make a quick stop, and rather than having children go into the store with them, will opt to leave them in the car for short periods of time. However, this can be a fatal mistake, as the NHTSA cautions temperatures inside of a vehicle can reach deadly levels within just 10 minutes.

Approximately 26.3% of incidents involved children getting into unattended vehicles without the parent or guardians knowledge or permission.

The NHTSA and the child safety advocate organization, Safe Kids Worldwide, have previously released a series of suggestions for parents and caregivers to follow when traveling with children, mainly designed to remind the driver that the child is in the vehicle, such as:

  • Placing a cell phone, briefcase or other important object next to the child’s car seat which forces you to check the back seat before exiting the vehicle.
  • Calling a spouse or caregiver to confirm you have dropped the child off
  • Having a daycare provider call you if the child does not arrive
  • Writing a note and placing it on the dashboard or setting a reminder on the cell phone or calendar.

The NHTSA and Safe Kids Worldwide urge bystanders to always take action if they notice a child left in a vehicle, particularly on a hot day. Bystanders are being encouraged to always check to see if the child is responsive and alert, and if not to call 911 immediately. In the event the child is responsive and alert, bystanders should attempt to locate the parents or the nearby facility to locate them by alerting over the venues PA system, and if the child is not responsive to attempt to get into the car to assist, even if breaking the window is the only option.


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