August 3, 2004

Safety organization reminds parents not to leave children unattended in vehicles

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign today reminded parents and caregivers that leaving children unattended in a motor vehicle can quickly lead to fatal consequences, especially in warm weather.

From 1996 to the present, at least 241 children have died of heatstroke after being trapped inside parked cars, and at least 19 have died already this year in the U.S. Most of the children were in child safety seats and left behind or forgotten by an adult. Others gained access to an unlocked car and then became trapped inside.

“During warm weather, temperatures can rapidly rise inside a vehicle, even if it’s parked in the shade. A tragedy can occur within minutes if children are left in a closed car,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D.

Young children trapped in a hot, closed vehicle are at particularly great risk on a day that is sunny or humid. Even when the temperature is as mild as 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a closed vehicle can heat to levels that are dangerous for children within a short span of time.

“It’s not only parents and caregivers who should be extremely vigilant. Anyone who observes a small child alone in a closed vehicle should contact emergency services immediately,” says Martin Eichelberger, M.D., president of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

The NHTSA recommends that parents place an unmistakable reminder of a child’s presence where they’ll be sure to see it before leaving the vehicle. “For example, place a diaper bag right next to you, your briefcase or your lunch bag,” recommends the NHTSA.

Car trunks can also be especially hazardous. In very hot weather, within minutes a child trapped in the trunk of a vehicle can suffer a heatstroke that leads to permanent disability or even death.

Remember these safety precautions:

  • Keep the trunk of your car locked at all times, especially when the vehicle is parked in the driveway or near your home.

  • Keep rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent kids from getting into the trunk from the passenger area of a car.
  • Put car keys out of children’s reach and sight.
  • Be wary of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how they can unlock the door if they become trapped in a motor vehicle.

For the fourth year in a row, SAFE KIDS and General Motors are conducting a national public awareness campaign aimed at educating parents and caregivers about the dangers of leaving children unattended in motor vehicles. Brochures can be downloaded at and

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of unintentional childhood injury – the number one killer of children ages 14 and under.

Connect with