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Kids Continue Dying in Hot Cars for No Reason

Since 1998, at least 742 children died of heatstroke inside motor vehicles. All of these deaths were preventable.

It doesn’t take long for a child to die in a hot car. 10 minutes. Since 1998, more than 700 U.S. children died due to vehicular heatstroke, according to a new report from the National Safety Council. “All of these deaths could have been prevented,” the authors of the report write. “It takes all of us working together and paying attention to this issue through education and legislation in order to save lives.”

The report calls on state policymakers to bump-up legislation that’ll punish parents who leave their children unattended in cars, and to invest in technologies, such as dashboard chimes, that can help remind parents to double check their car seats before locking up. Here’s the data behind these recommendations:

Hot Cars Kill 37 Children Each Year

Between 1998 and 2017, at least 742 children died of heatstroke inside motor vehicles, according to the report. The average age of these children was just 21 months. Half were left unattended by a parent or caregiver, who forgot that they were in the car; 27 percent found their way into the vehicles by themselves and became locked in. Crucially, 18 percent—that’s 137 children—were left there intentionally, by adults who assumed that it was safe to do so.

The following chart illustrates the number of deaths per year attributed to vehicular heatstroke. There have been notable peaks and valleys, but the number has remained mostly constant:

All It Takes Is 10 Minutes

It is never responsible to leave a child unattended in a hot car, and it’s a deadly myth that leaving the windows cracked can prevent heatstroke. Studies have shown that, on days with ambient temperatures above 86 degrees, the inside of a car can quickly reach up to 150 degrees. One fascinating study in Pediatrics measured the average increase in temperature inside a car across 16 different days, with outdoor temperatures ranging from 72 to 96 degrees. Nonetheless, the increase in temperature inside the car remained constant—80 percent of the increase happened within the first 30 minutes. Cracking the windows did nothing to help.

A Breakdown Of Deaths By State

First, the caveats. The following map makes every state south of the Mason-Dixon line look pretty bad. But keep in mind that southern states get more sun. Alaska didn’t have any vehicular heatstroke deaths probably because, even in July, the temperature seldom rises above 60 or 70 degrees. It is also noteworthy that this map does not control for population. Remember: there are more kids, cars, and distracted adults in California than there are in North Dakota.

That said, several of the states with the highest rates of pediatric vehicular heatstroke also have no particular laws on the books to protect children from this happening. Of the 11 states with more than 20 deaths since 1998, only 7 have “unattended child laws”, which serve to both deter and educate caregivers about the dangers of leaving a child in a hot car. But Arizona (33 deaths), Georgia (31), Virginia (21), and North Carolina (28) have no such laws on the books.