Hot Car Death Statistics in 2019

The Zebra
Sept. 12, 2019

In 2019, The Zebra ran a national survey to further examine a 2002 study regarding the effect of high temperatures inside vehicles. The study found rolling down a window a bit, or "cracking" open the window, did not help to cool down the car's interior. The Zebra's survey aimed to discover if people still held the assumption that this behavior helped to mitigate the threat of potential heatstroke to a vicitim left inside the car. 

  • 13.4% of people believed cracking open a window would eliminate the threat.
  • 24.8% of people believed cracking open a window would mitigate the threat.
  • 61.9% of people believed cracking open a window had no effect on the threat.Hot Car Death Statistics in 2019

Our survey on the impact of in-vehicle heat revealed:

  • 15.3% of men between the ages of 55 and 64 thought cracking a window would eliminate the threat of heatstroke completely.
  • 17% of women aged between 25 and 34 believed cracking a window would eliminate the threat of heatstroke completely.
  • 25.4% of people from Southern states believed cracking a window would mitigate the threat of heatstroke completely.
  • 57.9% of people from states in the Midwest correctly guessed that cracking a window does not affect the threat of heatstroke.

 

What happens in a hot car?

Once the human body reaches a core temperature of 104° Fahrenheit, heatstroke may occur, causing toxins to flood the body and leading to cell death. At 106°, the body begins to convulse. Once the body reaches 108°, irreversible brain damage is likely. 

The interior of a closed car heats quickly because sunlight heats up elements inside, such as the dash, upholstery, steering wheel, and more, according tonoheatstroke.org— especially if the color of the vehicle is darker. Those elements release their heat into the air (heat rises), increasing the temperature inside the car. 

 

Hot car death statistics for kids: child heatstroke occurrences

  • Pediatric Vehicular Stroke (PVS), also known as child heatstroke, has killed 38 children already in 2019. 
  • In 2018, 52 children died in the U.S. while trapped in a hot car.
  • Since 1998, 813 pediatric vehicular stroke fatalities have occurred.
  • For children in the United States under age 14, heatstroke is the second most common cause of death, after car crashes.
  • A child’s body heats three to five times faster than an adult’s, making a child more likely to die in a hot car.
  • Between 1998 and 2002, California saw the most cases of pediatric vehicular stroke, followed by Texas and Florida.
  • In 2019, most US child heatstroke deaths occurred in Texas and Florida. 

 

Hot car death statistics for pets

  • From 2018-2019, 78 pets suffered heat stroke and died in a hot car.
  • Dogs with broad, short skulls (also known as brachycephalic breeds) are especially susceptible to heatstroke.
  • Pugs and bulldogs are more likely to die while trapped in a hot car.
  • Dogs with heart conditions, as well as overweight or underweight dogs, are also more likely to exhibit symptoms of heatstroke.

 

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

If your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms, bring them to a cool area as soon as possible and provide them water:

  • Excessive, rapid breathing or panting
  • Bright pink gums
  • Decreased energy
  • Rapid heartbeat

 

Studies on temperature in hot cars

In a time-lapse study conducted in 2002 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a dark blue mid-sized sedan was used to test the increased temperature inside of the sedan over a one-hour period.

The study established:

  • Opening or “cracking” the windows had little effect to cool the interior.
  • Two-thirds of the most rapid heating occurred in the first 20 minutes.
  • Vehicle interior color was probably the biggest factor in how quickly the interior temperature increased.
  • Even when exterior temperatures averaged 61° F during the first hour of testing, the inside of a parked car could exceed 105° F.

From 1998 to 2018, researchers at No Heat Stroke studied media reports from nearly 800 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths. The following is a breakdown of the circumstances that led to the fatalities:

  • 54% of the children were forgotten in the car by a caregiver.
  • 26.3% of the children gained access into the car on their own and got trapped.
  • 18.9% of the children were knowingly left in the car by a caregiver.
  • 0.9% of the children were found in the car without anyone knowing how they got there.

 

If you see a child or pet suffering in a car, what you are legally allowed to do?

  • All 50 states have laws in place to protect animals from abuse, neglect, and cruelty.
  • 26 states have “hot car death prevention”-specific laws.
  • 21 states do not have laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a dog (or another animal) unattended in a vehicle.

 

Emergencies only: how to break a car window

In most states, you are not legally protected to break a window in order to save a child or animal from heatstroke. Before doing anything, take a picture of the victim in the vehicle, as well as a picture of the license plate of the car. Always call the police in the event of finding an animal or human trapped in a hot car. 

However, if the victim is not responding, waiting for the police to break the window might be a risk. In the event of an emergency, here is how to break a car window from the outside: 

  1. Remove the spark plug.
  2. Break the porcelain casing around it against the ground or a sturdy wall.
  3. Throw a sharp piece of porcelain at the window.
  4. Help the trapped victim out of the car. Given them water or a cool, wet towel.
  5. Wait for the authorities.

 

Insurance implications

In the event your car is damaged by someone trying to rescue a pet or child inside, you have several options with your insurance company. While some are dependent on your pre-existing policy, many claim options come standard with every policy. Here are a few:

  1. Specific glass coverageis additional coverage you can purchase that includes a lowered deductible (around $100).
  2. Someone else’shomeowners/renters liabilitycan cover the property damages. But this is state-dependent and certain states might remove this liability coverage. 
  3. Comprehensive coverageis part of a standard policy. The deductibles for this kind of policy can vary.

Over the years, car insurance rates for comprehensive coverage has fluctuated. Below are the most recent rates.

comprehensive/collision ratesResources: