Fatalities due to being left in motor vehicles is an important cause of pediatric mortality. Few studies in the medical literature focus on this topic. This study aims to describe the circumstances surrounding these deaths, to determine their geographic distribution, and to evaluate the legal consequences for those responsible.
This is a retrospective cohort study of individuals ≤14 years old who died of heatstroke after being left in motor vehicles from 1990 through 2016 using a database provided by KidsAndCars.org. Descriptive data and specified outcomes regarding victims and responsible individuals were recorded.
Of the 541 cases included for analysis, 528 fatalities involved a single victim and 26 fatalities involved 2 or more victims left in a vehicle. Of all fatalities, 54.4% were male and the mean age was 16.4 (±13.7) months. The responsible individual(s) unknowingly left the victim(s) in the vehicle in 78.2% of cases and knowingly left the victim(s) in 16.6% of cases. A single individual was responsible for leaving the victim(s) in 88.9% of cases. The cases were noted in 45 of 50 states and most commonly occurred in Texas (15%), Florida (12%), and California (7%). Criminal charges against the responsible individual(s) occurred in 58.2% of cases.
Pediatric fatalities due to being left in motor vehicles most commonly occur when a caregiver leaves a child unknowingly in a home parking area. These fatalities occur most often in Texas, Florida, and California. Responsible individuals are frequently charged with a crime.