Child Fatalities from Heatstroke in Cars (2018)

Leaving a child alone in a hot vehicle can cause a heat fatality. Around 39 heatstroke-related deaths occur annually to children under age 15 as a result of being left in vehicles.

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Chris Tepedino is a feature writer that has written extensively about car insurance for numerous websites. He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses...

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Reviewed byJoel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: May 22, 2020

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The death of a child is one of the most senseless and horrifying events a parent or loving caregiver could face. And yet, an average of 37 times per year, a child dies of heatstroke in a vehicle.

Most of the time, the event was an accident, often caused by the caregiver forgetting they had a child in the car.

Parents that intentionally leave children in the vehicle, need to pay attention to the following statistics:

  • The temperature in a car on a sunny hot day can easily raise 20 degrees in 10 minutes
  • The interior temperature of a car can soar even on “cooler” days. On a 70 degree day, the temperature can rise to 104 degrees in just one hour.
  • On a 60 degree autumn day, the inside temperature can rise to 110 degrees over several hours
  • Children are unable to control body temperature like an adult and as a result, their bodies can heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s
  • Eighty-seven percent of children who die of heatstroke in a vehicle are three years old or younger (see below)

Heatstroke Age at Death

These statistics, and the fact that young children are stuck in car seats and unable to free themselves make them ultra vulnerable.

Are you sick and tired of hearing these stories on the news? So are we!

Child Vehicular Heatstroke Deaths by State in 2018


Notice the trend of traditionally warmer states with higher child fatalities. We never recommend parents or guardians leave children unattended in a vehicle, but that goes double or triple in states in the southern region of the United States.

StateNumber of deathsAverage temperatureAverage age (Months)Number of deaths since 1998Rank
South Carolina689.5˚18171
North Carolina187˚72913
New York191˚121816
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Check out some of the trends below:

– Average Temperature at Death

– Number of Deaths by State (2018)

– Number of Deaths by State (Since 1998)

These deaths are easy to prevent with a single commitment: Never leave your children unattended in a vehicle

  • More children have died of vehicular heatstroke in Texas in the past twenty years than in any other state.
  • Two of the deaths in Virginia this summer were siblings in the same incident.

Want to know more about your state’s temperatures?

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2018’s Higher Than Normal Temps

2018 was a particularly bad year for this kind of preventable death, and that may have been impacted by higher than normal temperatures across the board.

According to the NOOA, May to October 2018 was the warmest six month stretch on record (see the data below for further breakdown)

Oct 18
(1 Mo)
44ᵗʰ Coolest
81ˢᵗ Warmest
Coolest since: 2013
Warmest since: 2017
Sep-Oct 18
(2 Mos)
103ʳᵈ Coolest
22ⁿᵈ Warmest
Coolest since: 2013
Warmest since: 2017
Aug-Oct 18
(3 mos)
109ᵗʰ Coolest
16ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest since: 2016
Jul-Oct 18
(4 mos)
110ᵗʰ Coolest
15ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest since: 2016
Jun-Oct 18
(5 Mos)
119ᵗʰ Coolest
6ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest since: 2016
May-Oct 18
(6 Mos)
124ᵗʰ Coolest
1ˢᵗ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest to Date
Apr-Oct 18
(7 Mos)
120ᵗʰ Coolest
5ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest since: 2016
1934, 2012
Mar-Oct 18
(8 Mos)
117ᵗʰ Coolest
8ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2014
Warmest since: 2017
Feb-Oct 18
(9 Mos)
116ᵗʰ Coolest
9ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2014
Warmest since: 2017
Jan-Oct 18
(10 Mos)
115ᵗʰ Coolest
10ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2014
Warmest since: 2017
1912, 1917
Dec 17–Oct 18
(11 Mos)
114ᵗʰ Coolest
10ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2014
Warmest since: 2017
Nov 17–Oct 18
(12 Mos)
116ᵗʰ Coolest
8ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2015
Warmest since: 2017
May 17-Oct 18
(18 Mos)
116ᵗʰ Coolest
8ᵗʰ Warmest
Coolest since: 2015
Warmest since: 2017
Nov 16–Oct 18
(24 Mos)
120ᵗʰ Coolest
3ʳᵈ Warmest
Coolest since: 2015
Warmest since: 2017
Nov 15–Oct 18
(36 Mos)
121ˢᵗ Coolest
1ˢᵗ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest to Date
Nov 14–Oct 18
(48 Mos)
120ᵗʰ Coolest
1ˢᵗ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest to Date
Nov 13–Oct 18
(60 Mos)
119ᵗʰ Coolest
1ˢᵗ Warmest
Coolest since: 2017
Warmest to Date
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Now consider this, the inside of a car even on a cool day in the 70s functions like an oven:

OutsideInside 10 minsInside 30 mins
70°feels like 89°feels like 104°
80°feels like 99°feels like 114°
90°feels like 109°feels like 124°
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Here are the average temperatures by state for the last 29 years:

StateAverage (F)Average (C)RankStateAverage (F)Average (C)Rank
Hawaii7021.12Rhode Island50.110.127
South Carolina62.416.98Oregon48.49.133
California59.415.212New York45.47.437
North Carolina591513South Dakota45.27.338
Virginia55.112.817New Hampshire43.86.642
New Mexico53.411.921Wyoming425.646
New Jersey52.711.522Minnesota41.25.147
West Virginia51.81123North Dakota40.44.749
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You can find out more information about average temperatures for your state and city here.

Want to know a secret? These kinds of deaths are preventable. We’ll tell you how.

5 Ways to Prevent Heatstroke

#1 – ACT

  • AAvoid leaving a child alone in a vehicle for any amount of time
  • C – Create a reminder of the child’s presence in a vehicle. Leave something like a child’s toy in the front seat as a reminder. There are also apps available to create a reminder such as Kars4Kids or Baby on Board. Both these apps work using a car’s Bluetooth.
  • T – Take action when witnessing a child left in a car. Many states have Good Samaritan Laws in place that would protect people from damaging a car to rescue an ailing child.

#2 – Always Check the Car Interior before Locking and Leaving

Getting into the habit of always checking your vehicle before locking it will help protect children. Even when a parent knows their child is not in the car, they should continue checking before locking just for that one in a thousand time when their child may be in the car.

Many manufacturers now include the rear seat reminder feature in their vehicles.

#3 – Don’t Let Vehicles Be Play Places

Children should not be allowed to play in cars. They can develop heat exhaustion or heatstroke just as easily while letting themselves in the car to play as they can when being left in the car by an adult.

#4 – Be Extra Alert When out of Routine

Caregivers must be consciously more careful when they are out of a routine, as that’s when the stressors of different circumstances can overtake careful thinking.

#5 – Have a Communication Plan with other Caregivers

A developed plan of having caregivers such as daycare providers call parents if the child doesn’t show up when scheduled can provide a great security net in case a child is forgotten in a car.

Prevention is critical and by following these simple steps, parents and caregivers can avoid that one in a thousand chance that they forget and leave a child in a hot car.

Even as the temperatures cool down this fall, caregivers should make the above tips become habits so that the next time the temperatures rise, they’ll already have a safety net in place to prevent the little ones in their care from suffering heatstroke.

Heatstroke’s Affect on a Child

When a child’s temperature reaches 104 degrees they need medical attention. At hot temperatures, children are unable to control their body temperature leading to organ shock and loss of circulation. Electrolytes are thrown off and a child’s heart can start beating erratically.

KidsHealth recommends the following actions to take when a child appears to be suffering from heatstroke while awaiting emergency response teams:

  • Bring the child indoors or into the shade immediately.
  • Undress the child.
  • Have the child lie down; raise the feet slightly.
  • If the child is alert, place in a lukewarm bath or spray with lukewarm water.
  • If the child is alert and coherent, give frequent sips of cool, clear fluids.
  • If the child is vomiting, turn onto his or her side to prevent choking.

Have you wondered what’s being done to prevent these deaths?

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Car Manfucters with Back Seat Reminder

Many car manufacturers have been proactive and offer rear seat reminders. For example:

GMC YukonChevy SuburbanCadillac CTS-VBuick LaCrosseNissan Pathfinder
GMC SierraChevy MalibuCadillac Escalade
GMC TerrainChevy TahoeCadillac CTS
GMC AcadiaChevy EquinoxCadillac ESV
GMC CanyonChevy ColoradoCadillac ATS
GMC Yukon XLChevy Cruze HatchbackCadillac CT6
Chevy Cruze
Chevy Silverado
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States Laws Concerning Children and Cars

Opening windows is not a good strategy to keep cars cooler as research has shown that vehicles heat up even with window open.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), fewer than half the states in the U.S. have laws to penalize parents for leaving a child in a hot car. Here are the current laws on the books per

  • “California: V C Section 15620 Prohibition Against Unattended Child in Vehicle Read the law
  • Connecticut: Sec 53-21a Leaving child unsupervised in place of public accommodation or vehicle Read the law
  • Florida: FSS 316.6135 Leaving children unattended or unsupervised in motor vehicle Read the law
  • Hawaii: 291C-121.5 Leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle Read the law
  • Illinois: Sec. 12 21.6. Endangering the life or health of a child Read the law
  • Kentucky: 507.040 Manslaughter in the Second Degree Read the law
  • Louisiana: RS 32:295.3 Leaving children unattended and unsupervised in motor vehicles Read the law
  • Maryland: 5-801 Unattended Children Read the law
  • Michigan: 750.135a.added Leaving child unattended in vehicle Read the law
  • Missouri: Sec 568.052 Leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle who causes an accident Read the law
  • Nebraska: Revised 28-710 Child Protection Act Read the law
  • Nevada: 202.575 Leaving child unattended in motor vehicle Read the law
  • Oklahoma: Unattended Children in Motor Vehicle Safety Act Read the law
  • Pennsylvania: 3701.1. Leaving an unattended child in a motor vehicle Read the law
  • Rhode Island: § 31-22-22.1. Child passenger protection – Warnings of hazard and risk. Read the law
  • Tennessee: 55-10-803. Offense of leaving child unattended in motor vehicle Read the law
  • Texas: Sec. 22.10. Leaving a child in a vehicle Read the law
  • Utah: 76-10-2202 Leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle Read the law
  • Washington: RCW 46.61.685 Leaving children unattended in standing vehicle with motor running Read the law

Nineteen states have laws making it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle, and 15 other states have similar laws proposed.

These states have Good Samaritan Laws:

States with LawsBill No.
AlabamaAct No 2017‐241
ArizonaHB 2494
California Ann.Cal.Civ.Code § 43.100 (animals only)
FloridaHB 131
IdahoSB 1245aa
IndianaHB 1161
KansasHB 2647
KentuckySB 16
MassachusettsM.G.L.A. 140 § 174F (animals only)
MissouriHB 1649/SB 896
OhioSB 215
OklahomaHB 1902
OregonHB 2732
South CarolinaAct #133 of 2016
TexasHB 478
TennesseeHB 537
UtahHB 152
VermontH.571 (Act 147)
VirginiaHB 2082
WisconsinAB 308
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States with Proposed LawsBill No.
ConnecticutHB 5365
GeorgiaSB 34
IllinoisSB 2294
MichiganHB 6298
NebraskaLB 916 (animals only)
New YorkS 240
North CarolinaHB 896
PennsylvaniaSB 782
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The NSC is working to get laws with stricter punishments in place for people who leave children in cars. From a ten-year study, they published the following statistics:

  • Confirmed, no charges filed: 68 (16.7 percent)
  • Went to jail: 71 (17.4 percent)
  • Plea deal or conviction with probation and no jail time: 52 (12.7 percent)
  • Charges either dropped or suspect was acquitted: 16 (3.9 percent)
  • No charges filed: 80 (19.6 percent)
  • Charges filed, but result not known: 60 (14.7 percent)
  • Unknown outcome: 61 (15 percent)

Unfortunately, the majority of children who die of heatstroke in a vehicle were not left intentionally. Usually, the parent or caregiver forgets the child is in the car. Stricter penalties will not help them remember.

That’s one reason the bill, Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act of 2017 or the HOT CARS Act of 2017 has been introduced to the House and Senate but is stuck there.

The HOT CARS Act would require manufacturers to install an alarm system into cars to remind caregivers to not leave children in the car unattended.

Likely, it will not pass because of intrinsic flaws which do not adequately protect children.

  • Of new car buyers, less than 13 percent have a child under six years old. Required technology that benefits only a few will cost manufacturers a lot of money that the majority of buyers will not be willing to pay for.
  • It would take about 20 years before all cars on the road would have that technology.

Also, some states require alarm systems in daycare vehicles or school buses. Those include:

States with Laws Bill No.Bill No.States with Proposed LawsBill No.
CaliforniaSB‐1072FloridaSB 247 / HB 419
TennesseeSB 3258 / HB 3368MichiganH( B 4901 )
TexasHB 1741
WisconsinSB 141
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Data was gathered from and for each state, the following is considered:

  • Total Number of Child Vehicular Heatstroke Fatalities in 2018
  • Average Temperature (F) at the time of child fatalities
  • Average Age of Children (in months)
  • Total Number of Child Vehicular Heatstroke Fatalities Since 1998

We also consulted the NOAA:

  • NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: National Time Series, published November 2018, retrieved on November 26, 2018 from

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