It’s a shocking story we hear all too often this time of year. A child dies after being left alone in a hot car.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in children under 15. Heat stroke happens when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough. Last year, 33 children in the United States died of heat stroke in cars. So far, in 2023, nine children have died.

This is because, in as little as 10 minutes, the temperature in a car can rise by 20 degrees or more. A child’s core temperature can quickly become dangerously high. In fact, studies show a child’s body temperature will rise three to five times faster than an adult’s. A child’s major organs begin to shut down when their body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit and they are at risk of death when it reaches 107 degrees (F).

Even on mild or cloudy days with slightly open windows, temperatures inside vehicles can reach life-threatening levels in no time. Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Experts warn that the risk of heat stroke will likely increase in the coming years with the impact of climate change.

How does this kind of tragedy happen?

Most often it’s a matter of a parent or caregiver forgetting that the child is in the car, an unsupervised child gaining access to a vehicle, or someone knowingly leaving a child in the car.


No child should ever be left unattended in a vehicle. According to NSC, parents and caregivers can establish some basic preventative measures to ensure their child is safe:

  • First, don’t think it couldn’t happen to you – Every parent or caregiver needs to be aware of the danger.

  • Slow down and avoid distractions – Being over-tired and over-stressed, as many parents are, can result in a child being forgotten in the backseat, especially when regular routines are disrupted.

  • Look before you lock – Place a purse, briefcase, work ID or even a left shoe in the back seat so that you are forced to take one last look before locking up and walking away.

  • Always keep car doors locked – When your car is in the driveway or garage, keep the doors locked so children cannot gain access. Teach them that cars are not play areas.

  • Safely store car keys and fobs – Young children love to get their hands on keys and fobs. Keep them out of reach.

  • Ask your child’s school, daycare, babysitter or preschool to contact you if your child does not show up where they are supposed to be.

  • Don’t do it. Not even for a minute – There is no safe time to leave a child in a vehicle, even if you are just running a quick errand.

Most importantly, in this situation where minutes count, remember: If you see something, say something. If you notice a child alone in a car, call 911. If you have to, break a window.