Hot Cars and Kids – a Deadly Combination

What can happen when otherwise attentive parents get distracted

For most of us, especially those of us in the Pacific Northwest, when the sun comes out our moods improve with the increase in temperature. Unfortunately, what also increases is  the number of children who die from hyperthermia or overheating of the body, after being unintentionally left in a car.

On average, 38 children in the U.S. die in hot cars each year. The numbers typically begin to increase in May with 3 deaths per month. By July and August, this surges to 9 deaths per month.  Although the majority of deaths occur in warmer states such as Texas, it can happen anywhere. Just this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in the first week of August, eight children across the U.S. have died from heatstroke in hot vehicles.

It takes only 10 minutes for the inside of a car to skyrocket by 20 degrees.  Even when it is only 80 degrees outside, the inside of a car can reach 123 degrees in only 60 minutes which is hot enough to bake cookies or biscuits in a little over two hours. Leaving a child in a car – even for a short while – can cause serious damage. And, very young children are not as able to regulate their environment,  such as opening  car windows or drinking fluids on their own to stay hydrated.

“Children’s bodies are not able to regulate and cool as well as adults’. It can take as little as 15 minutes in a hot car for a child to begin to suffer life-threatening effects,” said Dr. Tony Woodward, chief of emergency services at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “When a child’s body temperature reaches 106 degrees, internal organs such as the brain or kidney begin to shut down,” Dr. Woodward added. “Because it takes so little time to cause permanent harm, education and prevention are incredibly important.”

While parents do not intend to leave their children in a car, it happens. Usually because the parent is distracted or there is a deviation from the normal routine.

Children’s bodies are not able to regulate and cool as well as adults’. It can take as little as 15 minutes in a hot car for a child to begin to suffer life-threatening effects.Dr. Tony Woodward

Tip for Parents

  • Never leave a child in an unattended car, even for a minute, to run a quick errand.
  • Don’t leave a child in the car, even with the windows down or cracked open.
  • Be sure that all passengers leave the car when you reach your destination. Make a “look before you leave” routine whenever you get out of the car.
  • Learn to check the back seat. Starting today, make it one of those things you do without thinking.
  • Never leave a sleeping baby in the car.
  • Always lock your car. If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk.  Teach your children never to play in a parked or unoccupied car.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when not in use.  When you put your child in the car seat, put the stuffed animal on the front seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
  • If you find a child locked in a car, call 911 immediately.


  • Since 1998, 530 children have died in the U.S. when accidentally left in a hot car.
  • Hyperthermia means the overheating of the body, as opposed to hypothermia (the freezing or cooling down of the body).
  • Heatstroke or hyperthermia occurs when the core body temperature reaches 104 degrees F. A core body temperature of 107 degrees is considered lethal.
  • A child cannot regulate his or her body temperature as effectively as an adult and their bodies warm 5 times faster than adults.
  • Cracking the window or sunroof of the car has little effect.
  • In a recent study of young children who died from hyperthermia, the circumstances where a child was left in a car were:
    • 52%: child was “forgotten” by caregiver
    • 30%: child was playing in unattended vehicle
    • 17%: child was intentionally left in car by adult
    • 1%:  circumstances were unclear


Expert Available For Media Interviews

Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, is Medical Director of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is also the Medical Director for Transport Medicine at Seattle Children’s.

He has been awarded the Norcliffe Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Emergency Medicine and has been elected as member for the American Pediatric Society, an honorary society for pediatric research. Dr. Woodward’s specialty and board certifications include Pediatrics and Pediatric Emergency Medicine, being an ACLS, PALS and Pediatric Education for Prehospital Professionals (PEPP) instructor and an ATLS provider. He has held several national leadership positions, editorial positions and authored numerous publications.

If you’d like to arrange an interview with Dr. Woodward, please contact Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or [email protected].