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Heat related deaths to young children in parked cars: an analysis of 171 fatalities in the United States, 1995–2002
  1. A Guard1,
  2. S S Gallagher2
  1. 1Join Together, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Education Development Center, Newton, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Ms Anara Guard
 Education Development Center, Inc, 55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA 02458-1060, USA;


Objective: To describe the circumstances surrounding heat related deaths to young children in passenger compartments of motor vehicles.

Methods: Cases of heat related deaths to children aged ⩽5 years confined in parked vehicles were retrospectively identified using online news accounts from 1 January 1995 to 31 December 2002. A standardized data form was developed to collect information related to the victim, the vehicle and its design features, external temperature, length of time confined, and the responsible adults. Cases were categorized by whether the child gained access to the vehicle or was left by adults.

Results: A total of 171 fatalities that met the case criteria were identified. Twenty seven percent (46) were children who gained access to unlocked vehicles and 73% (125) were children who were left by adults. More than a quarter of the adults were aware they were leaving children in the vehicles, while half were unaware or forgot. Forty three percent (54) of deaths to children who were left were associated with childcare: 32 children were left by family members who intended to take them to childcare but forgot and went to work instead; 22 children were left by child care providers or drivers.

Conclusions: Many of the deaths reported in this study may have been prevented by keeping cars locked, educating parents, implementing informed child care transportation policies, passing relevant laws, and working with auto and child safety seat manufacturers to build in warnings and other design features. News sources can be useful for obtaining detailed information not otherwise identifiable through standard sources of fatality data.

  • ICD, International Classification of Diseases
  • NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • heat
  • entrapment
  • motor vehicles
  • abandonment

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  • Postscript: The authors welcome identification of additional cases. Please email or