Why Kids are Left Unattended in Cars: REVEALING Stats

distracted and distraught parents
cars in parking lot

52 children died in 2018 due to heat stroke in cars in the US - the highest, yearly fatality rate.

Andy Brisebois, President of Children’s Health and Safety Association says, “Children dying from heat stroke in cars is a relatively new event because over 25 years ago it just didn’t happen in Canada – it was not a regular occurrence like it is now.”

“Well intentioned parents were distraught and distracted 25 years ago, no different than they are today,” says Brisebois. 

So, it begs the question.  Why is there such an increase of kids being left unattended in cars now?

On September 1, 1998, it became mandatory for all cars and light trucks sold in the United States to have airbags on both sides of the front seat.  Only children under one-year-of-age or weighing less than 20 lbs. could sit in a rear-facing, infant seat positioned in the front seat of a car.  All other children were seated in the back seat of the car. 

It is no coincidence that at this time, child deaths due to heat stroke in cars increased by over 54%.

As parents gained knowledge and awareness that children were unsafe in the front seat of the car because of airbag deployment, the number of airbags deaths went to zero in 2010 but during that same year, 49 children died from heat stroke.

“If your child is positioned in the front seat, it would be impossible to forget she is in the car,” says Brisebois. 

However, when your child is in the back seat and she is quietly contented or falls asleep, it is normal for a parent to start thinking about all the things on the ‘to-do’ list and organizing a working schedule that would accommodate everyone’s needs, etc.

“During a typical workweek, parents are in ‘robotic mode’ performing the same repetitious tasks while thoughts of traffic, defensive driving, and getting to their destination safely and ‘on time’ plays a pivotal role,” adds Brisebois.

Statistics Don’t Lie; They Reveal a Documented Series of Events

  • 889 children died in hot cars in the United States from 1990 to 2018, according to kidsandcars.org.  
  • 120 children died from heat stroke in cars from 1990 to 2017 in Texas, more than any other state.
  • Prior to 1990, 16 children died from heat stroke in cars in the United States.
  • As cars became equipped with airbags, more children were dying from heat stroke, i.e. in 1998, 39 children died from heat stroke and 35 children died from airbag deployment.
  • 186 children died from airbag deployment from 1991 to 2010. There was an escalation from 1996 to 2001 but as parents understood the physical dangers caused by airbags, the number declined steadily through to 2018.

“Children dying from heat stroke in hot cars has turned into an epidemic,” says Brisebois.

Question:  What can you do to remind yourself that your child is in the back seat of the car?  

Answer: Place your purse, wallet and/or cell phone in back seat.

distracted and distraught parents

While the Canadian federal government does not collect statistical data, The Canadian Safety Council estimates that four to six children die from heat stroke in hot cars every year. 


Additional Resources

Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following videos:


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