Child Deaths as a Result of Vehicular Heatstroke are Tragic and Preventable

Did you know?
According to the National Safety Council (NSC) 24 percent of child vehicular heatstroke occurred while a parent or caregiver was at places of work.

Across the world, too many children and pets have been unintentionallyꟷ and sometimes intentionallyꟷ left in vehicles or have climbed into a vehicle on their own and become trapped. Many parents often think, “I would never leave my child unattended in a vehicle”. However, even the most diligent and loving parents or childcare providers can leave a child in a vehicle unintentionally resulting in serious injury or sometimes death.

In the U.S., on average, every 10 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle. According to the National Safety Council,  on average 38 children under the age of 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle. Twenty-four percent of these deaths occurred while a parent or caregiver was at work. Almost every state has experienced at least one death since 1998. A record number of 53 children died after being left in a hot vehicle in both 2018 and 2019.

The risk period for children, dogs or other pets being left in a hot vehicle tends to be associated with summer, and several heatstroke campaigns normally start around May time. However, vehicles can heat up to a dangerous inside temperature all year round, especially with an increasingly unpredictable climate and increase in intensity and frequency of heatwaves. The year-round risk of vehicle temperatures needs further attention.

Jan Null, a Certified Consulting Meteorologist from the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University has been tracking U.S. child vehicular heatstroke deaths since 2001. His research indicates that in more than half of these deaths, the caregiver unknowing left or “forgot” the child in the vehicle. This horrible tragedy has also occurred when employees “unknowingly left” or “forgot” their child is in their vehicle when driving to work.

Employers should educate their employees on the dangers of leaving a child in the vehicle. This module is intended to provide information and resources for employers to disseminate to employees regarding pediatric heatstroke, and to reduce these tragic preventable child deaths.