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 Heatstroke Deaths of
Children in Vehicles

by Jan Null, CCM
Department of Meteorology & Climate Science
San Jose State University

Updated July 1, 2016


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Infographic: jpg, pdf
Fact Sheets
English, Español

[Note: This study has now been published in
Pediatrics. Click here to download]

  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2016:  16
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2015:  24
  • Total number of U.S. heatstroke  deaths of children left in cars, 1998-present:  677
  • Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 37
  • See Monthly Statistics
  • See Statistics by State


 

CIRCUMSTANCES

    • An examination of media reports about the 661 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for a 18-year period (1998 through 2015) shows the following circumstances:

      • 54% - child "forgotten" by caregiver (356 Children)

      • 29% - child playing in unattended vehicle (189)

      • 17% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult  (111)

      • 1% - circumstances unknown (5)

  • Demographics of Persons Responsible for Heatstroke Deaths of Children Forgotten in Vehicles

    AGES

    The children that have died from vehicular heatstroke in the United States (1998-2015) have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years.  More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age.  Below are the percentage of total deaths (and the number of deaths).
    • < 1-year old = 32% (208)

    • 1-year old = 22% (146)

    • 2-years old = 20% (131)

    • 3-years old = 13% (84)

    • 4-years old = 6% (41)

    • 5-years old = 4% (23)

    • 6-years old = 1% (9)

    • 7-years old = < 1% (3)

    • 8-years old = < 1% (3)

    • 9-years old = < 1% (2)

    • 10-years old = < 1% (3)

    • 11-years old = < 1% (2)

    • 12-years old = < 1% (1)

    • 13-years old = < 1% (1)

    •  14-years old = < 1% (3) 

    • Unknown = < 1% (1)




# Date City Temperature Name Age
16 6/21/2016 Melissa, TX 93° Fern Thedford 6 mo
15 6/18/2016 Bossier City, LA 93° Aria Orr 3 yr
14 6/18/2016 Bossier City, LA 93° Oliver Orr 3 yr
13 6/16/2016 Houston, TX 96° Evan Trapolino 3 yr
12 6/11/2016 Des Moines, IA 91° Tyresse RayShawn Washington 6 mo
11 6/8/2016 Baton Rouge, LA 91° Raylee Mercer 8 mo
10 6/6/2016 Western, NY 77° Michael Fanfarillo 4 mo
9 5/25/2016 Wilmington, NC 86° Jefferson Brady Wilkins 9 mo
8 5/23/2016 Hialeah, FL 88° Micayle Goolsby 11 mo
7 5/19/2016 Grenada, MS 88° Shania Rihanna Caradine 8 mo
6 5/11/2016 Gluckstadt, MS 85° Caroline Bryant 2 yr
5 4/29/2016 Monroeville, AL 92° Zachary Bowden 7 mo
4 4/18/2016 Annandale, VA 71° Ashley Elizabeth Rockefeller 2 yr
3  4/18/2016 Louisville, KY 85° LaVontae Swain 2 yr
2  3/15/2016 Lufkin, TX 84° Peyton Hale-Williams 7 mo 
1 1/12/2016 Rossville, GA 52° Shadoe Braxton Pate  13 mo 


Previous Years:  2015, 201420132012201120102009200820072006200520042003, 1998-2002


LEGAL

  • Only 20 states have laws specifically addressing leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.
  • The remaining 30 states do not have laws specifically against leaving a child unattended in a vehicle

  • Another 14 states have had previously proposed unattended child laws

 

 

Good Samaritan Laws may protect persons who see a child in a car and take action to render assistance. Click here for a partial list from SafeKids.

A 2005 Associated Press (AP) study found "Wide disparity exists in sentences for leaving kids to die in hot cars". It examined both the frequency of prosecutions and length of sentences in hyperthermia death

That study found that charges were filed in 49% of all the deaths and 81% of those resulted in convictions.

-  In cases with paid caregivers (i.e., childcare workers, babysitters) 84% were charged and 96% convicted
-  Only 7% of the cases involved drugs or alcohol

 



MEDICAL

Heatstroke is clinically defined as when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is  overwhelmed
        -  Symptoms include :  dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, hallucinations

When a core body temperature of 107 degrees F or greater is reached then cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down.  This cascade of events can rapidly lead to death.

Children's thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult's and their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.



VEHICLE HEATING DYNAMICS

The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation (yellow in figure below) and are warmed little.  However this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes.  For example, a dark dashboard, steering wheel or seat temperatures often are in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees F.

These objects (e.g., dashboard, steering wheel, childseat) heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off longwave radiation (red) which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.

Objects Heated by the Sun Warm Vehicle's Air


ANIMATION  (Courtesy GM and Jan Null, San Jose State University)



VEHICLE HEATING STUDY

Studied temperature rise in enclosed cars on 16 dates between May 16 and Aug. 8, 2002.  (see graph of 16 case days)
Ambient temperature were between 72 and 96 degrees F.
Dark Blue mid-size sedan with medium grey interior
Also tested with windows “cracked”
Published in Pediatrics 2005 (Click
here to download)

 

 

HEATING STUDY SUMMARY

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
2 to 4 hours ~ 50-55 deg F

Summary Table of Temperature vs. Elapsed Time

Two-thirds of the heating in the first 20 minutes
“Cracking” the windows had little (i.e., < 3 deg.) effect

Vehicle interior color probably biggest factor



SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS

"Parents and other caregivers need to be educated that a vehicle is not a babysitter or play area ... but it can easily become tragedy"

NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE.  NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE !

IF YOU SEE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A HOT VEHICLE CALL 9-1-1.

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. Teach children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.

IF A CHILD IS MISSING, ALWAYS CHECK THE POOL FIRST, AND THEN THE CAR, INCLUDING THE TRUNK.

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, briefcase or cell phone 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.



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

CONTACT INFORMATION

Jan Null, CCM
Dept. of Meteorology and Climate Science
San Jose State University
Phone: (408) 379-7500
Email: jan.null@sjsu.edu

RESOURCES & LINKS

Children in Vehicles Videos and PSAs

ORGANIZATIONS 

 

  Special thanks to the National Safety Council for their support of this research and website.


Questions, comments or suggestions. Email jan.null@sjsu.edu
Copyright © 2016, Golden Gate Weather Services. 
Reproduction in full or part is prohibited without full attribution.  See FAQ #8.



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