Heat Wave: Don’t forget the kids in the car!

We’ve talked about kids dying in hot cars before (and it is so upsetting)  but with temperatures expected to hit 100, we can all use a reminder not to forget the kids in the backseat! (Check out this photo gallery of summer heat safety tips.)

It’s so scary because it truly could happen to anyone! And researchers who track the number of deaths are especially concerned this year because June’s numbers were higher than normal (18 in June as of June 28.). July is usually the worst month for deaths of children left in hot cars but since June’s numbers were so high they are worried it will be a record-setting year.

Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University, began tracking the data in the late 1990s when laws started requiring babies to face backward in their carseats in the backseat. That is apparently when parents started to forget more often.

Null’s San Francisco State University had a very interesting Web site with all kinds of statistics about kids dying in hot cars. I was particularly interested in maps that showed where the deaths have occurred over the years — not surprisingly a very large amount have occurred in the Southeast.

From the fact sheet:

  • Total number of U.S. hyperthermia deaths of children left in cars, 2010: 20
  • Total number of U.S. hyperthermia deaths of children left in cars, 2009: 33
  • Total number of U.S. hyperthermia deaths of children left in cars, 1998-2010: 465
  • Average number of U.S. child hyperthermia fatalities per year since 1998: 37
  • See Monthly Statistics

  • Circumstances
  • An examination of media reports about the 443 child vehicular hyperthermia deaths for an twelve year period (1998 through 2009) shows the following circumstances:
    • 51% – child “forgotten” by caregiver (228 Children)
    • 30% – child playing in unattended vehicle (131)
    • 18% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult  (80)
    • 1% – circumstances unknown (4)

How much  the car heats up per 10 minutes:

  • Average elapsed time and temperature rise
  • 10 minutes ~ 19 deg F
  • 20 minutes ~ 29 deg F
  • 30 minutes ~ 34 deg F
  • 60 minutes ~ 43 deg F
  • 1 to 2 hours ~ 45-50 deg F
  • “Cracking” the windows had little effect

Vehicle interior color probably biggest factor

  • “Parents andother caregivers need to be educated that a vehicle is not a babysitter or play area … but it can easily become tragedy”



Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.

  • Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.  If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver.
  • Or place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
  • Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car.
  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

I think these safety tips are good especially about setting all your stuff in the backseat so you don’t forget the baby. I think moving the stuffed animal may be confusing but if your purse is in the backseat you’ll turn around to get it. I also think that just by locking our doors and putting the keys up high we can reduce 30 percent of the deaths according to Null’s stats! I’m going to lock my car right now!!! I do say to my kids all the time we never play in the car.

So why do you think stats are increasing? Do you have any techniques to help you remember on a busy morning that your kids are back there? Have you ever almost forgot? (Each time I added a child, I had to remind myself you have another child in there. It’s just what you’re used to getting out.)

20 comments Add your comment

And before anyone else says it...

July 8th, 2010
3:13 pm

…don’t leave pets either, even with the windows rolled down a little for ventilation – it is still too hot…


July 8th, 2010
3:25 pm

I might get blasted for this, but here goes..YOU DO NOT forget that you have a child in the car..YOu leave your purse, your phone, your keys, never a child..I have nephews and nieces that are close to my age and in the last 42 years, not a single one of them has ever been left in a car..To me, you never get to busy or stressed out so much that you leave your baby in a hota*ss car and forget about them..


July 8th, 2010
3:34 pm

It takes a special kind of stupid to leave a kid in a car this time of year. Or a pet for that matter. I have been one of those who will see a dog in a car, and wait for the owner to come back. I don’t even leave my dogs OUTSIDE in the back yard in this heat. They go out to do their business, then come right back in the house. They are spoiled….


July 8th, 2010
3:34 pm

BUT, on the other hand, I have a cat who LOVES the heat, and will go out on the deck and bask until 3:00 – 4:00 in the afternoon.


July 8th, 2010
3:45 pm

Now see, I was just asking someone today, because I just cant remember these things, when its ove 95, do you, or dont you leave your kids in the car? Thank god you googled this information and gave us a “SAFETY RECOMMENDATION” if not I might have left them in there, and now I know, after reading this, that it might have hurt them. Wow, thanks again for the piercing journalism.


July 8th, 2010
4:05 pm

@Wow!! Well guess freaking what? There are idiots out there that do this, so go soemwhere else and be grumpy..Have a nice day..


July 8th, 2010
4:06 pm

I can’t imagine how anyone could ever forget they have a child in the car. I agree with JJ- it definitely takes a special kind of stupid. There is no excuse about forgetting your kid in the backseat.


July 8th, 2010
5:15 pm

I don’t think any parent who has forgotten a child in the car could ever imagine doing so until they do. One possibility for the stats going up is multitasking (distractions). It also happens sometimes when there’s a change in routine (for example, one parent usually drops the child at daycare, for some reason, the other needs to one morning and out of habit drives straight to work). Backwards facing child seats are another raised risk — at a glance in the rearview mirror, a backwards seat looks the same empty as it does with a quietly sleeping child. These parents aren’t stupid — they’re human and simply made a horrible, horrible mistake due to a slip of the mind. Hopefully, more people will realize it could indeed happen to them and use recommended suggestions like always placing a purse/wallet in/by the carseat while driving.

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post wrote a well-researched, heart-wrenching feature on this last year that won the Pulitzer: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022701549.html. Warning — have tissues handy before reading.


July 8th, 2010
5:21 pm

Did y’all even read the articles? It’s not stupidity that causes people to leave their kids, it’s usually a change in routine or some other stress situation. They forgot to go by daycare because the routine is different (only one child instead of two, an errand that you don’t usually run, a different parent dropping off the child). The main person mentioned in one article had been up for several nights with one sick child. She didn’t usually drop off only one kid so between being sleep deprived and having the change in routine, she actually thought she had dropped him off.

Haven’t you ever gotten somewhere and realized that you hadn’t thought about the drive At All because your mind was on something else? This is what happened to most of these people. Their mind was busy and their routine was off.

Most of these cases are not “I’m going to go into the store for an hour and don’t want to be bothered with my kid being whiny”, that’s under 20%. Most are tragic slips of the mind.

I think these kind of stories should engender more of a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ response not a ‘how could anyone be so stupid’ one. I hope against all hope that it never happens to any of y’all or your relatives so these words don’t come back to haunt you.


July 8th, 2010
5:31 pm

penguinmom…. You said it so beautifully. There by the Grace of God go I and my child. These are not “stupid” or “neglectful” parents…these are wonderful, loving parents who get distracted like we all do and endure the greatest devastation any one of us could ever imagine. I saw an Oprah on this epidemic and they had a woman on who this happened to where she lost her baby girl this way and she was the principle of her elementary school and because her son was at home sick, her husband stayed home instead of taking their daughter to daycare. She set out that morning to drop her off and picked up donuts for her teachers meeting that morning and flew to school having completely forgotten this out-of-routine errand. She lost a child and parents who have been through this only deserve our prayers, not our judgement. My heart went out to her and others who have to live with these tragedies and I am thankful that I am able to be reminded every day to slow down and put my purse in the backseat because, we are after all, human. God bless these parents.


July 9th, 2010
6:38 am

Sorry, mas1626, penguinmom, and HB – while y’all make excellent points I gotta agree with JJ and Becky that you have to be extra dumb to forget you have a kid in the car! Making excuses about “being distracted” is not only an excuse, but a lame one at that.

Yes, I drive to work many a morning and wonder how I got from one point to another since I may not be thinking about driving – but to forget about the most precious cargo one can have, I don’t buy it; tragic as it may be, there is NO excuse for leaving your child behind in ANY situation, much less a locked car.


July 9th, 2010
9:59 am

I wonder how many parents who left their children in the car were yakking on the cellphone when they exited the vehicle.

common sense

July 9th, 2010
10:12 am

mas1626, penguinmom, and HB – I totally agree with you on this one. Years ago I remember putting my daughter in the car to drive her to school… my normal routine. Then I passed right by the school and got halfway to work and realized that she was in the back seat. She was so quiet that morning and my thoughts drifted off into no mans land. I wasn’t on the phone, no loud music, just thinking. It can and does happen to the best of us. I will not pass judgment.

How many times has a mother or father forgotten to pick up a child, fell asleep waiting to pick up a child or their mind just went blank for a min???? We are always quick to judge until it happens to us.


July 9th, 2010
10:36 am

I saw the principal lady on Oprah as well, it was just heartbreaking. Made me sick to my stomach, how she will have to live with that the rest of her life.
I can’t imagine being so distracted that this would happen. I have a special mirror on my rear view that allows me to see my son in his carseat at all times. I am always looking back at him. But, like someone else said, I also sometimes space out while driving and it’s kind of scary.
It’s the idiots who leave their kids in the car to go into Wal-Mart that deserve the bashing.


July 9th, 2010
11:03 am

I had an employee once that had to go home. Why? Because she and her boyfriend both forget to bring their 2 YO to the grandmothers. Both thought the other did it.

I can’t pass judgement either because it does happen. Thankfully, my boys are noisy enough that I can’t forget them!


July 9th, 2010
11:06 am

I went off with the stove on high and a little water in the pan. Realized it 4 hours later, called a neighbor to go in (if my house was still standing.) Now I am PANICKED at the thought of doing it again. (The copper bottom came off the pan, pan was ruined, but no fire. I have a solid top stove.)

How horrible a thing to happen!

I think parents who go in stores on purpose, just leaving the child “for a minute” should be severely punished, even if there is no harm to the child left behind. Time in a very hot jail would work.

David S

July 9th, 2010
11:31 am



July 10th, 2010
8:17 am

The weather guy on Fox baked cookies in a car the other day. It took awhile, but the temp. in the car was estimated at 150 (the needle was pinned at 120, the highest it went), and the cookies came out crispy and delicious. Food for thought…

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July 14th, 2010
8:19 pm


August 16th, 2010
2:52 pm

This is a horrible thing to have happen to anyone. I can’t imagine doing this, but there is no way to know what was going on in any particular circumstance. Sometimes the kids get in the cars on their own to hide or play. Now, I admit that if my son disappears for more than a few minutes I get nervous when it gets quiet, but what if you think they are taking a nap and they sneak out. I can’t pass judgment on those that this tragedy happens to. Now, those that leave their kids in the car on purpose to catch a great sale at the Walmart should go to prison, have their kids taken away and their ovaries (or “man parts”) removed immediately!!!!