June 17, 2019

Preventing heat deaths: 5 of Missouri’s 19 heat-related deaths last year were children left in vehicles

Missouri Summer Safety Day, June 19, is a reminder of the dangers posed by heat and humidity and the importance of staying cool and hydrating

**The death totals reported by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services were preliminary when this news release was originally published. Finalized figures should be updated to reflect 20 total heat-related deaths in Missouri.

In 2018 in Missouri, five children died as a result of being left behind in hot vehicles, according to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The deaths serve as a reminder of the absolute importance of taking precautions to protect against summer heat and humidity, particularly in vehicles.

Four of the 2018 Missouri child heat deaths have been reported in the media previously. Three occurred on July 4: a five-year old girl in Moniteau County, and two-year old and seven-week old sisters who died in Clay County. A 10-week old girl died in a vehicle in Cape Girardeau on Aug. 11. The fifth child death did not appear in news reports but is confirmed by DHSS’ Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology

Missouri observes Summer Safety Day on Wednesday, June 19, two days before the first day of summer. Fourteen other people died of heat related causes in Missouri last year, according to the bureau, which is responsible for conducting surveillance of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Missouri.

The State Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service and the DHSS encourage everyone to pay attention to local forecasts and plan accordingly when activities are outside. Humidity can amplify the feeling of heat measured by a heat index so it is especially important to watch friends and family closely and know the signs of heat-related illnesses.

“If you have a young child, please remember to ‘Always Look Before You Lock,’” State Emergency Management Agency Director Ron Walker said. “More than half of child heatstroke vehicle deaths occur when the child is unknowingly left in the vehicle by a parent or caregiver, according to a recent National Safety Council study. These often occur when there’s a change in a normal routine and the caregiver forgets there is a child in a rear-facing backseat car seat.” 

The National Safety Council study found that of the 742 reported child heatstroke deaths inside motor vehicles from 1998 to 2017:

  • 54 percent (400) had been unknowingly left in the vehicle.
  • 27 percent (200) gained access to the vehicle on their own.
  • 18 percent (137) were left knowingly, or intentionally.
  • 1 percent (5) of circumstances were unknown.

Across the U.S., there are on average 37 child hot car deaths each year. The safety council study can be found here.

The Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology reports two death certificates were issued in 2018 for adults who died of heat stroke in a vehicle. According to BEE, adults most at risk are those involved in motor vehicle accidents, people abusing substances, and people with physical or mental disabilities. The 12 other heat deaths in Missouri in 2018 did not involve motor vehicles. 

Experts say to never leave a child or a pet alone in a car, even on a cooler day because the temperature can rise by 20 degrees in 10 minutes and can pose a real threat to anyone left inside. This month, an 11-month old child died in a St. Louis suburb after reportedly being left in a car for 15 hours. The temperature had reached a high of about 79 that day.

Remember these other safety tips to protect you and your family during summer’s heat:

  • Drink plenty of water and limit intake of alcoholic beverages. Make sure your pet has fresh water and access to shade.
  • Eat light, well-balanced meals at regular intervals.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and head. Use at least 30 SPF sunscreen.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day; use the buddy system when working in extreme heat and take frequent breaks.
  • If you do not have air conditioning, consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and other community facilities. Find a nearby cooling center near you:
  • Check on family, friends and neighbors who may not have air conditioning or who spend much of their time alone.
  • Be aware of medications that may impair the body's response to heat, including antihistamines, tranquilizers and some medications for heart disease.

Please contact your local NWS office for interviews about Summer Safety Day or for additional information:

St. Louis: (636) 441-8216

Kansas City: (816) 540-6021

Springfield: (417) 869-4491

Paducah, Ky.: (270) 744-6440

Memphis, Tenn: (901) 544-0401

Davenport, Iowa: (563) 388-0672 


For more information, call 573-751-6294 or e-mail