Risk of Death: Leaving Infants And Toddlers In A Hot Car

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It's that time of year when we are reminded about the dangers of leaving a baby or young child in a hot car. The risk is real, and with all the news about and regulation of leaving children in cars- I wanted to look at the question "What is the actual risk of a child under 5 dying in an overheated car in the US of A?" I'm not a risk, safety or health expert- I'm just looking at numbers and doing some very simple math. I am including web addresses of the websites were got my information.

On average (since 1998) overheating in a car is the cause of death for 38 children aged 0-14 a year in the USA- with most of them happening ages 0-6 years. Last year it was 44 children. Let's keep the math simple. Knowing that we will inflate the risk, let's assume that all these deaths occur to children under the age of 5. In reality, 5% of these deaths happen to kids ages 6-14. I'm doing this with the numbers because we have data that estimates that there are 23.7 million children ages 0-5 in the USA. I don't have numbers for how many kiddos are 0-6 years old in the USA.

So that's less than 2 out of every million children die from overheating in a car- though for last year it was almost exactly 2 out of each million. That risk is very low. It is significantly less than 1% of children ages 0-5, and is really close to the number zero.
30% of these deaths are from children playing in unattended cars- and I suspect that that represents most of the deaths of the children who are 3 years & older. 27% of these deaths are children age 3-14. 73% are children 0-2 years old. 70% of children who die left in warm cars are forgotten or intentionally left in cars.

53% of the deaths are a result of children being forgotten- usually when a parent goes off routine and forgets that their child is in the car with them. 18% of these deaths occur when children are intentionally left in the car.

One smart kiddo came up with a way to remind the driver that there is an infant or toddler in the back of the car. His cheap, simple, and smart idea could save the lives of 26 - 30 children in the USA a year. This number could probably safely be doubled, since I haven't discussed deaths from hypothermia at all.


Assuming that the 18% that are intentionally left in the car are done so in order to run a quick errand rather than with the intention of killing the child- on average, 7 children in the USA die while parents leave the kids in the car to run an errand. Again, the number would presumably be larger if we include children who are left in cars and die from the cold. I have had trouble finding a good source for those numbers.



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