Health & Environment

Passenger Safety Expert: Don’t Leave Children In Hot Vehicles

Texas A&M AgriLife's family and community health program manager says the likelihood of heatstroke and death increase with temperature.
By Paul Schattenberg, Texas A&M AgriLife Communicaions July 23, 2020

yellow and orange image of child sleeping in carseat
Children’s bodies heat up faster than adults’, making them more vulnerable to heatstroke, even if exterior temperatures are not excessively hot.


Every summer children suffer heatstroke or die as a result of being left unattended in a hot car, but a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service passenger safety expert says there are a number of ways to help avoid such a tragedy.

Bev Kellner, AgriLife Extension family and community health program manager in College Station, said the first thing to remember is that as temperatures increase, so does the likelihood of heatstroke and death for any child left alone in a vehicle.

Children are especially vulnerable to heatstroke

Data from the San Jose State University Department of Meteorology and Climate Science show that since 1998 more than 865 children have died from heatstroke while left unattended in vehicles.

“Texas has the greatest overall number of child deaths from children being left in hot cars than any other state,” Kellner said. “Temperatures in parked vehicles rise very quickly, and a child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s, so the combination can be deadly. In hot weather, the temperature inside a vehicle can increase by almost 20 degrees in a mere 10 minutes.”

She said children are far more vulnerable to heatstroke than adults, even when exterior temperatures are not excessively hot.

“Hyperthermia or heatstroke can occur at body temperatures above 104 degrees and even mild exterior temperatures can pose a threat,” she said. “And contrary to popular belief, cracking a window does little or nothing to dispel the heat from the interior of the vehicle.”

Kellner said more than half of these deaths are due to caregivers forgetting they have a child in the vehicle, and such deaths are entirely preventable if a few precautions are taken.

graphic showing three panels of cars with increases in internal temperatures
Increases in internal car temperatures over elapsed times of 10, 20 and 30 minutes, each with an exterior temperature of 80 degrees.

Safe Kids Worldwide


Tips for avoiding child hot-car deaths

Kellner said some good ideas on how to reduce the possibility of a child being left alone in a hot vehicle and getting heatstroke come from Safe Kids Worldwide, which promotes “ACT” as a means of safety.

The “A” stands for avoiding heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute, plus making sure the vehicle is locked while nobody is in it so kids can’t get in on their own.

The “C” is for creating a visual reminder that a child is in the back seat — or placing a phone, gym bag, briefcase, purse or other frequently used item in the back seat with the child.

The “T” stands for taking action, particularly calling 911 if you see a child alone in a vehicle.

Kellner and Safe Kids also offered these additional safety tips:

  • Teach children not to play in and around vehicles.
  • Instruct children that trunks are for transporting cargo and are not safe places to play. If your child is missing, be sure to check vehicles and trunks along with other potentially dangerous places.
  • Never leave keys in the car and store them out of children’s sight and reach.
  • If you have a small child, make a habit of always looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away.
  • When parking a multi-passenger vehicle, make sure there are no children sleeping on the seats or hiding under them.
  • Identify and use safe play areas for children — away from parked or moving vehicles.

“If your child is locked in a car, get him or her out as quickly as possible and dial 911 immediately,” Kellner said. “Emergency personnel are trained to evaluate and check for signs of heatstroke.”

Kellner noted other ways to help avoid children being accidentally locked in hot vehicles are to use drive-thru services when available and to pay for gas at the pump with a debit or credit card instead of going inside.

Using technology, planning to avoid disaster

Technology can be another way to help remember there is a child in the vehicle. One way is to put a calendar reminder into your smart device to verify you remembered to drop your child off at daycare. Another way is to develop a plan with your daycare so that if your child is late, they will call you within a short time to let you know.

“Be particularly careful if you’ve had to change your routine for dropping off a child at daycare as this may throw off any established pattern or habit you may have developed for checking on your child and removing him or her from the vehicle,” Kellner said.

There are devices already on the market that are designed to help prevent adults from leaving children in hot vehicles, including:

  • The WAZE traffic app, which has a setting that will remind a driver to check his or her back seat once a destination that was entered into the app has been reached.
  • A battery-operated sensor system that works in conjunction with a child safety seat and is synchronized to an app that sends a notification to the driver’s phone to check the vehicle once it has stopped.
  • Evenflo and Cybex car seat manufacturers offer SensorSafe technology with a smart chest clip that syncs with the vehicle computer and lets the driver know if the chest clip on the car seat is not unlocked within a short time after the ignition is stopped.
  • A built-in back seat reminder sensor system already available in some vehicles that activates when the rear door is either opened or closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started or while the vehicle is still running.

“It’s important to have different levels of safety and redundancy in keeping children safe from being left unattended in a hot car,” Kellner said. “You can’t ever be too careful or too vigilant when it comes to child passenger safety, especially when the consequences are too horrible to consider.”

This article by Paul Schattenberg originally appeared on AgriLife Today.

Related Stories

Recent Stories