Written by: Justin Hamilton

Firefighter / EMT-Paramedic / PIO in training / Public Education

July 23, 2020


4-year-old boy died of heatstroke in Wichita Falls after gaining access to a vehicle in the family’s driveway on Saturday, July 18.  The outside temperature in Wichita Falls on Saturday was 96°. In 2020, this is the 10th pediatric vehicular heatstroke (PVH) death in the U. S. and the second in Texas. 

Five of the 10 U. S. PVH deaths this year were due to a child gaining access to a vehicle on his/her own. This is twice the average percentage of “gained access” cases based on data from 1998-2019. It is the circumstance leading to both of the deaths in Texas this year (the first was a 4-year-old boy in Tomball who died on April 25 after gaining access to a family vehicle on his own). Because of COVID 19, it is important to accentuate the part of our prevention message to lock all vehicles, including at home.

Nationally, comparing this year to previous years, the 10 deaths for this year are slightly less than 1/2 of the average number of 21 deaths through the first two-thirds of July. 

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. It occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels.

Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s (source: American Academy of Pediatrics). A car can heat up 19 degrees in 10 minutes (noheatstroke.org). This means that with a 90° outside temperature, the inside of a car can heat up to 109° in 10 minutes and will continue to rise. Cracking a window doesn’t help.

Symptoms can quickly progress from flushed, dry skin and vomiting to seizures, organ failure and death.

Key Statistics

From 1998 through 2019, at least 849 children across the United States died from heatstroke when unattended in vehicles. (Statistics prior to 1998 are not considered reliable).

  • 54.2% – child forgotten by caregiver
  • 25.2% – child entered unattended vehicle unnoticed
  • 19.1% – child knowingly left in vehicle by adult
  • 1.5% – Unknown

From 1998 through 2019, Texas leads all states with 126 pediatric vehicular heatstroke (PVH) deaths.

Through July 18, 2020, there have been 10 PVH deaths in U. S., including two in Texas. In 2019, there were 52 PVH deaths in the U. S, including 7 in Texas. This was the 2nd highest yearly number of PVH deaths on record. The year with the highest number of deaths was 2018, with 53 deaths in the U. S., including 5 in Texas.


Reduce the number of pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths by remembering to ACT:

Avoid heatstroke-related injury by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a quick trip to the store. Always lock your doors and trunks — including in your driveway or garage. If a child goes missing, check the pool first, then check the vehicles, including trunks.

Create reminders. Routinely place something you’ll need at your next stop — like a purse, briefcase or cellphone — in the backseat.

Take Action. If you see a child alone in a car, take action. Call 911.

Reduzca el número de muertes por insolación recordando las siglas ECA:

E Evite las lesiones y muertes relacionadas con la insolación al no dejar nunca solo a su niño en el auto, ni siquiera por un minuto. Y asegúrese de mantener con llaves su auto cuando usted no está adentro, pues así los niños no entran por su propia cuenta.

C Cree recordatorios colocando algo en la parte de atrás del auto y junto a su niño, como un maletín, una cartera o teléfono celular, que le hará falta al llegar a su destino final.

A Actúe. Si usted ve a un niño solo en un auto, llame al 911.


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