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Survey Measures Public Awareness of Child Vehicular Heatstroke Dangers in Texas

Each year, child vehicular heatstroke (CVH) deaths occur nationwide. During 2019, a total of 52 children died of vehicular heatstroke in the United States, including 7 children in Texas. Since CVH deaths are considered to be 100 percent preventable, how is it that they continue to occur? A recent survey conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) sheds some light on that question, gathering data regarding Texans’ awareness of CVH dangers and prevention. Prevention is especially important since the conditions and factors leading to a CVH death can unfold very quickly.


An earlier study by Jan Null, a lecturer in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science in the College of Science at San Jose State University, published in Pediatrics, showed that on an 80-degree day, temperatures in a closed vehicle rose from 75 degrees to 94 degrees in only 10 minutes. Cracking the windows had little effect. Though it’s true that CVH deaths occur at moderate temperatures, one of the bigger challenges in Texas is that temperatures often are much higher — rising into the 90s and occasionally the 100s — especially during summer months. Besides high levels of heat that can be reached quickly, another factor leading to child vehicular heatstroke deaths is that a child’s thermoregulatory system is not fully developed; in short, his or her body is less capable of handling heat than an adult’s. Symptoms of heatstroke include high fever, flushed skin, confusion, nausea, and loss of consciousness. As mentioned above, one of the more tragic aspects of CVH deaths is that they’re 100 percent avoidable.


Prevention steps typically contain four elements:

•   Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.

•   Keep car doors and trunks locked, including at home, so kids don’t get in on their own.

•   Create reminders by always placing your cellphone, purse, or briefcase in the backseat. This will serve as a cue to always check the backseat when exiting the vehicle.

•   If you see an unattended child in a vehicle, call 911.


Prevention steps

How knowledgeable are Texans of vehicular heatstroke dangers and what they can do to take reasonable, consistent preventive steps? Getting answers to questions like this is why surveys are important. They help researchers understand public awareness about an issue and can identify possible gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed by appropriate education and related action.


TTI’s survey measured public awareness and knowledge of CVH, surveying 425 Texans; here’s some of what was found:


•   52 percent of respondents didn’t understand that it takes as little as
10 minutes for a car’s interior temperature to rise 19 degrees, while
48 percent understood this to be true.

•   About 8 percent knew that one-fourth of the children who died gained access to a vehicle unnoticed.

•   84 percent knew that it’s illegal in Texas to knowingly leave a child unattended in a vehicle. They also knew that Texas law provides legal immunity to a bystander who believes it necessary to remove an unattended child from a vehicle in an emergency.




Survey findings may assist prevention officials and advocates in Texas as they develop and refine educational efforts. While there have been some technological advances in helping prevent CVH deaths (and more are expected), awareness and education remain the best tools to prevent these deaths. The survey findings add a dimension to the knowledge on CVH and can help guide prevention efforts.



Katie Womack is a senior research scientist at TTI.


What Texas Is Doing to Prevent CVH


From 1998 to 2011, there were 849 CVH deaths in the United States, 126 of those in Texas. Faced with its challenges of high population numbers and high temperatures, Texas has been working to reduce CVH deaths.


•   The Texas Department of Transportation carries out a CVH prevention campaign via its system of 1,100+ electronic dynamic-messaging signs along Texas highways. The campaign has been conducted each year during July and early August since 2014.

•   In addition to its law prohibiting a child from being knowingly left in a vehicle, several related Texas laws have been passed during the past decade, including:

o Texas hospitals and birthing centers are required to provide CVH information to all newborn parents upon discharge.

o Liability protection is given to a bystander who removes a child (or other vulnerable individual) from a vehicle provided the bystander calls 911 or law enforcement and follows protocols.

•   Prevention activities are carried out by community-level law enforcement officers, first responders, traffic safety specialists, child passenger safety specialists, community workers, medical professionals, and many others. More than 450 are members of a Texas-specific heatstroke prevention network from which they receive regular communication and resources for education. Work is done by Safe Kids coalitions, advisory councils for trauma, parent advocates who’ve experienced vehicular heatstroke tragedies in their own families, and others. News and weather media have helped by calling attention to CVH dangers, especially during the summer months.

For More Information

Katie Womack


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