Texas Health and Human Services / Texas Health Steps

Preventing Child Heatstroke in Vehicles

It’s important for everyone to understand that children are more vulnerable to heatstroke and that all hot car deaths are preventable.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2022

After vehicle crashes, heatstroke is the leading cause of vehicle-related deaths for children ages 14 years and younger. Nearly every death involves a child left in a vehicle or trapped in one. Texas leads the U.S. in pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths.

Nearly 75 percent of children who die of heatstroke in vehicles are ages 23 months or younger. Vehicles heat up fast. The temperature can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. Heatstroke begins when core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees; reaching 107 degrees is lethal. Death comes quickly as organs shut down.

baby on board sign

Every child death in a hot vehicle is preventable.

Most commonly, children die of heatstroke in vehicles because the driver forgot and left them in the closed car. Often, it’s busy parents going to work who forget their child is in the backseat, especially if they aren’t the one who usually drops off or picks up the child.

Common factors that contribute to a driver’s loss of awareness that a child is in the vehicle include:

  • A change in driving route that day
  • A change in typical interaction during the drive because the child is sleeping or unusually quiet
  • A stressful or distracting experience prior to or during the drive
  • Sleep deprivation for the driver

Health-care providers are key to preventing deaths caused by such fatal distractions. Providers can use anticipatory guidance and motivational interviewing to educate parents about the extreme dangers of leaving a child in a car. They can also help parents create reminders and safety routines to remember to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.

Quick Quiz

Which of the following habits could save a child’s life?

Place a purse, wallet, employee badge or phone in the backseat next to the child.

Set a smartphone reminder to take the child out of the car.

Designate someone to call the driver to ensure the child made it safely to the destination.

Always ask, “Where’s baby?” while driving and after reaching any destination.

Look in the backseat before locking the vehicle after every drive.

All of the above.

Why it matters

Every hot car death is preventable. Health-care providers are key educators about how quickly closed vehicles can heat up and cause a child’s death. Providers can save lives by helping parents develop routines and reminders to prevent a child from being left in a car.

Explore more

Refer to our helpful course for more information, tips and resources to help prevent vehicular heatstroke deaths.

References

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2022). Prevent Hot Car Deaths.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2022). You Can Help Prevent Hot Car Deaths.

Noheatstroke.org. (2022).

Texas Department of State Health Services. (2021). Hyperthermia Dangers in Texas.