Experts warn of dangers for kids in cars on hot days

Experts are warning parents about the dangers of leaving children in the car after a Cary mother kept her kids unattended for more than 30 minutes.

Monday, Laura Castro left her two children in a car at a Cary apartment complex. A nearby painting crew found the children, 1 and 5 years old, and told WCTI-TV one child looked like she wasn’t breathing, the other covered in sweat.

Since 1998, 636 children have died in the U.S. from vehicular heatstroke. Of those deaths, 24 occurred in North Carolina, according to Jan Null, San Jose State University meteorologist and creator of noheatstroke.org.

Dr. Randy Cordle, of Carolinas Medical Center, recommends parents leave something they’re not likely to forget in the back seat, such as a purse or a cellphone. Cordle is medical director of the division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Carolinas HealthCare System.

“I know it sounds silly, how can we possibly forget our children?” Cordle said. “But I’ve heard that story from very good parents who made a mistake once, and their children are suffering because of it.”

This year, there have been 10 child deaths reported in the U.S. related to vehicular heatstroke – the lowest number reported in Null’s study, which goes back to 1998.

Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, thinks the decrease is because of heightened media attention and hotter temperatures that cause more concern. The nonprofit is focused on preventing injuries and death to children in or around motor vehicles

Though there have been fewer child deaths this year, that hasn’t been the case in recent years. Before 1995, roughly 11 U.S. children died each year from vehicular hyperthermia. From 1998 to 2006, that number rose to an average of 36 deaths annually, according to noheatstroke.org.

The increase is because of laws that were passed in the mid-’90s that prohibited children from sitting in the front seat of cars, Fennell said. Though this meant fewer children were at risk for juvenile air bag death, the risk for vehicular heat stroke increased as they became less visible to parents in back seats.

Of the 10 deaths this year, temperatures ranged from 82 to 98 degrees the day of the incident. According to Cordle, children are at risk even on cooler days.

“If you think about a car, it’s kind of like an oven,” Cordle said. “Even at only 80 degrees outside, the radiant heat from the sun can warm the car to 150 or 160 degrees in a matter of minutes. A kid’s body temperature can go dangerously high – 106, 107 or more, which starts to break down the brain.”


  • If you see a child alone in a car, call 911 immediately.
  • Never leave your child alone in a car – even just for a minute.
  • Don’t think cracking a window is OK. It won’t prevent death.
  • Place something you aren’t likely to forget in the back seat with your child.

Source: Jan Null of noheatstroke.org