Check the backseat; prevent child heatstroke

By Julie Jordan
Published June 7, 2019

During summer getting from point A to point B by car is a necessity for keeping your body temperature cooler. But once the car is off, a potential for danger begins: Forgetting to get your child out of the backseat of your car. The primary vehicle-related killer of children 14 and under in the U.S., outside of crashes, is heatstroke. From 1998 to 2018, almost 800 children died from vehicular heatstroke, and 54% were forgotten by a caregiver.   

Heatstroke occurs when core body temperature reaches 104 degrees and the thermoregulatory system—a mechanism that maintains body temperature by tightly controlled self-regulation, no matter the temperature of surroundings—is overwhelmed. A core temperature of 107 degrees is deadly. A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s.

Child heatstroke occurs most often during the summer, but heatstroke fatalities can occur in vehicles parked in shaded areas, vehicles with the windows rolled down and when temperatures are less than 80 degrees. A car can heat up by 20 degrees in 10 minutes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation advises, “Look before you lock,” and taking these steps to help prevent child heatstroke as both a caregiver and a bystander.


  1. Never leave a child alone in the car.
  2. Look in the back seat every time you leave the car.
  3. Always lock the car and put the keys out of reach.   


  • Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911.
  • If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents or have the facility’s security or management page the car owner over the PA system.
  • If there is someone with you, one person should actively search for the parent while the other waits at the car.
  • If the child is not responsive or appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child—even if that means breaking a window. Many states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.

Signs of heatstroke include red, hot and moist or dry skin; no sweating; a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse; nausea; confusion; or acting strangely. If a child shows these signs after being in a hot car, spray the child with cool water. Never put a child in an ice bath. Call 911.