Children and Hot Cars: A Deadly Combination

As temperatures stay warm through the summer months in San Diego county, children – or pets – left unattended in vehicles, even for a few minutes, are at extreme risk for hyperthermia and heat exhaustion, which can lead to organ failure or even death.

“Every case of a child being left in a car is preventable,” said Chairman Ron Roberts, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Never let a child sit unattended in a vehicle, not even to run a quick errand. There is no such thing as a quick errand when it comes to the consequences of leaving your child in a hot vehicle.”

Temperatures inside vehicles can increase by as much as 35 degrees in 30 minutes, making the inside of a car like an oven for a child. An infant can die in as little as 15 minutes, even on a mild 75-degree day, according to

“Even if you, as an adult, think it’s a mild day temperature wise, it’s not the same for a child, especially an infant,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County Public Health Officer. “A child can not regulate their body temperature as an adult can, and their core body temperature rises 3 to 5 times faster than an adult.”

Children don’t sweat as efficiently as adults and they absorb heat faster. When a child’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees their internal organs begin to shut down; a body temperature of 107 degrees is lethal. Nationwide more than 600 children have died from being left in cars since 1990.

Symptoms of heatstroke, according to Dr. Wooten, include red, hot and dry skin without visible sweating, a rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, confusion and unconsciousness. Without proper immediate treatment, heatstroke can become fatal.

“Most parents think this could never happen to them,” said Nick Macchione, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency Director. “But horrific tragedies can happen in a matter of moments – that’s all it takes.”

Keeping kids healthy, safe and thriving is a top priority for the County of San Diego. There are several tips that can help prevent children from being forgotten in the backseat:

  • If you see a child a left unattended in a vehicle, call 9-1-1.
  • Get in the habit of checking the child carrier every time you exit your vehicle, whether or not your child is with you at the time.
  • Place something you need to take with you in the backseat with your child – a purse, cell phone, briefcase, employee badge, etc. It gives you another reason to check the back seat before you exit the vehicle.
  • Institute a rule with your day care provider or babysitter – have them contact you if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
  • Keep one of your child’s favorite toys in the car seat. When you put the child in the car seat, place the toy or stuffed animal in the front seat as a reminder that the child is in the car seat.