Summer Isn’t the Only Hot Zone for In-Car Heatstroke

A baby sleeping in a child car seat illustration by Paul Dolan; Woraput/iStock

As we bid farewell to summer, temps are starting to trend downward in some parts of the country — but that doesn’t reduce the risks of in-car heatstroke death. According to Jan Null of San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, 22 children have died this year in hot cars.

Related: I Sit in the Hot Seat to Demonstrate Children’s In-Car Heatstroke Risk

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Null’s website,, has tracked 871 heatstroke deaths since 1998, and they occur year-round. What can caregivers do to prevent this devastating trend?

Here are some tips:

Know the Risks

Even in cooler temperatures, a car can heat up quickly. After an hour in the sun, the air temp in a car can become around 43 degrees hotter than outside temps, depending on factors like the color of a car’s interior, Null said. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, heatstroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temps and occurs when a person’s body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher. Children’s internal temperatures can reach 106 degrees in just 15 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs of heatstroke include nausea or vomiting, flushed (red) skin, racing heart rate and skin that’s hot but dry to the touch. Someone with symptoms of heatstroke requires emergency medical attention.

Technology and Prevention 

Earlier in the summer, the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act — legislation that would mandate that all new passenger vehicles be equipped with a child safety alert system that would provide audio and visual warnings both inside and outside the vehicle — passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is now awaiting Senate approval.

In the meantime, some automakers have begun rolling out standard and optional automated alert systems in part to help prevent in-car heatstroke. Most, like GM’s Rear Seat Reminder and Nissan’s Rear Door Alert system, use door-sequence logic and activate only if the rear doors were opened at the beginning of the trip, but not at the end. Critics say these systems only infer something is left behind rather than detect a forgotten child, and they don’t help in situations where a child was playing in the car and became accidentally trapped.

Some other systems do it differently, namely Hyundai’s and Kia’s Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert system. It uses sensors to monitor the backseat for movement and will alert the driver via the instrument panel and by honking the horn, flashing the lights and sending an alert to a connected app. The 2021 Honda Odyssey uses a door sequence setup, but in uplevel Touring and Elite trims, it works with the CabinWatch camera system to display an image of the rear seats (and what you may have left in them).

Get in on the ACT

Obviously, not everyone can afford a new car, but until legislation is passed and prevention systems  are widely available, caregivers need to be vigilant to prevent heatstroke deaths. Safe Kids Worldwide urges parents to “ACT”:

1. Avoid …

… heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not inside so kids don’t get in on their own.

2. Create …

… reminders. Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the backseat. Or place and secure your phone, briefcase or purse in the backseat when traveling with your child.

3. Take …

… action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911.

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