Keeping Kids Safe: Avoid the Dangers of Hot Cars this Summer

With triple-digit and record-breaking temperatures expected across the West, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital safety experts are issuing a reminder to parents to never leave a child in a vehicle – even for a minute – to prevent unintended injury or even death. 

“Even when it’s not that warm outside in the early morning, the insides of cars heat up quickly and can present a serious hazard for children,” said Jessica Strong, community health manager at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “Everyone must remain vigilant to never leave a child alone in a car for any amount of time to prevent a tragedy.” 

Accidental heat stroke tragedies can happen to anyone

Stress, fatigue, and change of routine can push a person’s brain into autopilot, making it easier to forget. Summertime can present more risk of injury due to hot weather and changes in routine, including children out of school and families staying up late for activities. 

With businesses, summer camps and activities reopening, soaring temperatures and family schedules disrupted by the start of summer, tragedy can happen quickly unless everyone is vigilant about safety. 

Facts about hot cars and heat stroke

About 40 children across the country die each year after being left in a hot vehicle. Last year, the year of the pandemic closures, was one of the lowest years for heat stroke deaths with 25 deaths nationwide. 

“My speculation is that with fewer people driving, and more parents working from home, there were fewer opportunities to leave children in cars, resulting in fewer deaths,” Strong said. “My hope, though, is that this decrease is the start of a trend in the right direction, which will continue until the number of deaths reaches zero.” 

More facts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Heat stroke happens when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough.
  • A child's body heats up 3-5 times faster than an adult's does.
    • When left in a hot car, a child's major organs begin to shut down when her temperature reaches 104 degrees F.
    • A child can die when his temperature reaches 107 degrees F.
  • Cars heat up quickly. In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees.
  • Cracking a window and/or air conditioning does little to keep it cool once the car is turned off.
  • Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees F.
  • Because of climate change, we can expect more days to be hotter. Also, hotter days can happen throughout the year.

6 ways to prevent heat stroke and hot car deaths

  1. Never leave your child alone in a vehicle – even for a few minutes. A child’s body temperature can increase 3-5 times faster than an adult’s. Cracking a window has very little effect on the temperature inside the car. 
  2. Always check your car before leaving it. 
  3. Keep a visual reminder that a child is with you, like a Baby Safety Snap, stuffed animal or diaper bag in the seat next to you. 
  4. Place something you’ll need when you arrive at your destination, like your briefcase, backpack, purse or cell phone, in the back seat. That way, when you reach for the item, you’ll likely see the child. 
  5. Get in the habit of always locking your car doors. Unattended cars can be a dangerous place for curious children. 26% of hot car deaths happen because of children getting into unattended vehicles.
  6. If you see a child left alone in a car, contact the police or call 911.