Kids More Likely to Die OUTSIDE of Cars than Waiting IN Them: New York Post

Readers, I am thrilled that Andrea drfbnnbkds
had the guts to put our kids-waiting-in-cars hysteria into focus. From her column today:

“We’ve become hyper-fearful about any children being left alone for even a second,’’ said Lenore Skenazy, a public speaker and author of “Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).’’…

“What we’re seeing this summer, parents who make a rational decision to let their kids wait in a car for a brief period are treated as if they’re leaving them in the Mojave Desert with an empty Dasani water bottle,’’ Skenazy told me.

After mentioning the case of Justin Ross Harris, and the fact that 19 children have died of heatstroke this year, Peyser  went on to point out (boldface mine):

Then, there are cases like this one: Police in Bristol, Conn., last month slapped a misdemeanor charge against Christina Williams, 30, of leaving a child under 12 years old unattended in a car, after a passerby with nothing better to do alerted authorities that Williams’ daughter was alone in a vehicle. She was 11!

…, whose members oppose children being left in cars, estimates that 45 kids have died this year after being backed over by vehicles in places including driveways and parking lots, and another 23 were killed after cars rolled over them while going forward. Also, 265 child pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“So kids are more likely to die when taken out of the car than while waiting in it,’’ said Skenazy.

I don’t know of another journalist, aside from 20/20’s Elizabeth Vargas, who has had the balls to make the case against kids-in-cars hysteria so boldly. I salute both these ladies. – L.

Sometimes it is FINE to let sleeping kids lie. Photo source: Pixabay.

Sometimes it is BEST to let sleeping kids lie. (Photo source: Pixabay.)

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34 Responses to Kids More Likely to Die OUTSIDE of Cars than Waiting IN Them: New York Post

  1. no rest for the weary August 18, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    “It’s time to stop agonizing over the children.
    I worry more about their stressed-out parents.”

    Truer words were never spoken. Honestly, the times I’ve been prone to blow up at my kids usually centre around the angst in me about being accosted by other parents or, worse, the authorities.

    So the biggest danger to children, really, IS stressed-out parents.

    Hey! People! Leave those ‘rents alone!

  2. jet August 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Here’s a bit of info I’d love to have and something that I’m sure isn’t tracked and we’ll never know…

    How many of those child pedestrians and/or kids hit and killed in parking lots were awakened from a sound sleep, groggy, or grumpy enough to pull away from a parent and thus stumbled into harms way?

  3. pentamom August 18, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Sympathetic as I am to the point, I’m a little nervous about using the statistics about all kids hit by all moving cars in parking lots and driveways, let alone on roadways. This doesn’t establish that the kid would have been safer sitting in the car than being “taken out,” because you can’t sit in a car until you get into it, and maybe they *were* getting into it. Or maybe they had no relationship to the car at all — they were playing in a driveway, not getting in or out or intended to get in or out. Or maybe they were in a location where they were taken out of the car not because someone thought they shouldn’t be left in the car, but because the nature of the errand required them being out of the car — the child was participating in the shopping trip, or going into the doctor’s office, or whatever.

    To really establish that it’s safer to leave kids in the car than to take them out, you’d have to somehow control for situations where the kid was actually “taken out” of the car as opposed to being “left in”, not just somewhere in the world on the outside of some car. I’m not sure that’s actually possible, though.

  4. SKL August 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Good! At least this might start a dialogue that concludes “it doesn’t have to be all or nothing!” I agree with pentamom that this doesn’t exactly prove anything, and I think it is unlikely that we’ll ever really get a clear answer as to whether it’s statistically safer to leave a kid in the car on a short errand (though I believe it I don’t see anyone doing a study to prove it). It goes back to: someone has to examine the pros and cons in each situation and decide. Only the parent can do this.

    Since there are good reasons sometimes to leave kids in cars – and a couple of very out-of-control twins I know come to mind – I do worry that deaths will be caused by parents feeling like they have no choice but to let their impulsive runners into the parking lot.

  5. no rest for the weary August 18, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    I think the point of this is to say that there is no risk-free moment in life, and to behave as though parents are legally negligent for choosing one minor risk over another minor risk is, at this point, becoming enough of a problem for writers like this one to start sounding an alarm.

    If busybodies want to alert the authorities every time a child is in danger, then they should call the authorities whenever they see a car LEAVING a parking lot with kids as passengers. Statistically, those kids are at multiple times greater risk for harm when the driver puts the car into gear than they ever were sitting in it alone, waiting for the driver to return.

    This hysterical, hammer-swinging “rescue” energy around kids sitting in stationary vehicles is simply outrageous and enormously disruptive to families. We all know a real crisis when we see one. But to bombard the public with the idea that children left intentionally in a vehicle are always in great danger is something SOMEBODY has to blow the whistle on.

  6. Liz August 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    When I was 11, I was not only left at home alone but babysitting younger children. I also spent my Summer working for my parent’s business, answering phones and helping customers, to the point where I started paying into Social Security then and getting a paycheck (that was in the early 1990s, not that long ago). There is something in the law called “the age of reason,” when a child is capable of knowing right from wrong and is able to function as an individual. Before then, usually 7 or 8, a kid will not (or should not) be prosecuted for crimes, because they don’t know any better. Somehow, the law is raising that age to ridiculous levels, saying that kids in middle school or higher aren’t capable of acting or thinking independently. When did this get so twisted? I’m pregnant, and terrified that I’m going to go to jail at some point because I have no intention of leashing my child to me or hovering over them at all times. I had a friend who had a neighbor let herself into her house to scream at her that her kids were playing in the fenced-in backyard (in suburbia) without her, and if she saw it happen again she’d call the police. In the heat of the moment, my friend snapped back at her to get out of her house before she called the police and had her charged with breaking and entering, but afterwards she was devastated and kept asking, “I’m not a bad mother, am I?” How can we raise good adults if they aren’t allowed to be children, to learn and be independent?!

  7. no rest for the weary August 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Oh, Liz, that’s just it. I refuse to believe that I’m a “bad mother” even if the choices I make for myself and my kids don’t meet with some hysterical standard of “care” that doesn’t resemble my version of that word.

    Lenore, the “World’s Worst Mother,” has two sons that have somehow, some way, managed to reach puberty and beyond. Worrying about someone else’s judgement is one thing.

    Worrying about the police getting involved is quite another. I can withstand people’s judgement quite easily. I can’t abide walking on eggshells in fear that the authorities might intervene in my family for NO REASON AT ALL.

  8. Emily Morris August 18, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Love this!

    I’m in the same state as one of the latest car deaths, and it really struck home to me.

    And yet, I have to say I never felt it was a threatening danger, just a horrible tragedy.

    I think I can feel heartbroken for these families and, heck, even make some plans to help prevent me from a similar accident without being wrapped up in a paranoia.

  9. Warren August 19, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    This is a great piece. Unfortunately the paranoid screamers that seem to set the trends, will not believe it.

    I have pointed out numerous times that the crime rate is at a 40 yr low. People have actually checked that out and have given the following responses.

    1. How can they say that, do they not watch the news.
    2. They are lying to make themselves look good.
    3. They obviously don’t live here.

    and so on.

    People are lazy. Is another reason they don’t like this reality. They want the state to tell them what to do. They do not want to make the choice themselves. They want to be told what to do.

  10. gap.runner August 19, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Warren, I know what you mean about the “paranoid screamers who set the trends.” Almost every time I tell friends in the States about what my 15-year-old son does, the response is almost always, “But it’s so different where you live. It is safer than the US.” The other reply is, “It was safer when we were kids.” Even when I say that there is less crime than when we were kids, that seems to go in one ear and right out the other.

    We really need more examples of kids doing free range things and living to tell the tale. It would be even better if the media could show kids doing what we did without any ill effects instead of the usual sensationalistic fearmongering. Or they could sensationalize something mundane by saying, “Children walk to school and back without being kidnapped. Film at 11.”

  11. Jill August 19, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    @Warren. I agree. I also think people enjoy leaping on horror stories that happen to children as a way of feeling better about their own parenting choices.
    I was in a beauty parlor a year or so ago when there was a story in the news about a woman who left her children in the care of a friend, who allowed them to do something dangerous (I think they were playing inside one of those large clothes dryers in a laundromat.) The police got involved, and the mother was raked over the coals. The mom lived in a poverty-stricken area, and she couldn’t afford daycare.
    The glee with which the women in the beauty parlor were discussing this incident made my blood boil. They obviously felt superior that THEIR children were better looked-after. There was a clear but unspoken undertone that “these people” were lazy and stupid and had too many children without bothering to get married.
    It was very much like the Dr. Seuss story about the star-bellied Sneeches and the plain-bellied Sneeches.
    I think people like feeling smug, and better than other people. If they think they can get away with calling the police when they see a child walking down the street by himself, they do it in a heartbeat, because it means they’re good, concerned citizens. The same with smashing a car window when they see a child sitting alone inside. No matter that the child doesn’t appear to be in distress, it’s OMG! a child alone in a car, and smashing a car window is something that many people are probably just itching to do, especially if they think they’ll be hailed as a hero for doing it.
    Now that license has been given for car-window smashing, there will be more of it, because monkey see, monkey do.

  12. Dirk. August 19, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    If less people are leaving their kids in cars and the number of kids who die in cars is stagnant what does that tell you?

  13. Donna August 19, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Dirk, again you insist on ignoring that fact that almost all child car deaths have always been children who were forgotten in cars or children trapped in a car (usually the trunk) while playing. It was true in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and today. If the car deaths are stagnant, then that means that the number of people accidentally forgetting their children in the car is also stagnant. Great. Nobody here is advocating that unintentionally forgetting your kids in the car for hours should be the norm. We all agree that that is horrible. However, telling parents not to intentionally leave children in the car doesn’t actually stop people from unintentionally leaving their children in the car.

  14. Havva August 19, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    “If less people are leaving their kids in cars and the number of kids who die in cars is stagnant what does that tell you?”

    That would tell me that the kids who die in cars are not being left intentionally. That the kids actually in danger are NOT the ones being left for 5 minutes while mom drops off the dry cleaning. It would also tell me that the ‘not for a minute’ campaigns are not working.

    It suggest to me that these campaigns should shift focus to “Look before you leave” and “If a child is missing, always check the pool first, and then the car, including the trunk.”

  15. JP Merzetti August 19, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    In the 1950’s hanging out in a car was a national pastime for kids.
    Eventually, this led to “parking” (at a later age.)
    We were also not terrified of the water that came out of the tap….(but then again, it had not been fracked.)
    Some of us were known to play hookey from school occasionally.
    No-one was led away in handcuffs.
    Parents were known to celebrate the new prosperity. They did not rat on each other for percieved breaches of law, but instead practised astonishingly rational thought.
    Children were often thought highly of…but were not treated like messiahs, pop stars or the missing clause of a Constitution.
    The children appreciated this immensely.
    It would have weirded us out no end, to think that our mere existence in some “compromised” sort of way would lead to law, litigation, incarceration and no end of grief for the parents we trusted and depended upon.
    The cop on the beat was smiled upon.
    From inside parked cars.
    From Main Street where we often wandered at all ages, unattended.
    From bicycles and beat up old crates fashioned from used lumber and baby carriage wheels.
    He always smiled back.

    We didn’t wind up on the news. The industry hadn’t figured out yet how to privatize and value-add us.
    But then, the news was something people watched, yawning, after 11pm and before bed. They didn’t carry it around in their pockets.

    Liz…..all I can say is I’m glad my kids are already grown up. Your childhood was ideal. The age of reason now seems to go backward. Far too many people old enough to know better, but just don’t.
    A child’s age can now be butchered and warped into whatever suits the agenda.
    Parents fighting back….one of the principles of a free society is the freedom to raise kids. Naturally, sensibly, relaxed and confident.
    Instead of the tip-toe through the minefield it has become.
    How do you raise healthy children in a war zone?
    By working toward a declaration of peace, I’d say.

  16. no rest for the weary August 19, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    I remember kids dying in cars in the 1970s. They died because they weren’t wearing seat belts. Usually, they were either in the middle of the front seat or the middle of the back seat, leaning into the front seat when they went through the windshield on impact.

    It was the norm for children to ride without seat belts. My mother insisted I wear mine, but I didn’t like it, so sometimes I clicked the buckle behind me to make it sound like I had it on. But her words about safety got to me, and I became a big seatbelt-wearer, even when socially pressured not to.

    Kids were NOT dying in cars when their parents left them alone there to run an errand. The kids in cars people don’t like this fact, that before the advent of air bags and rear-facing infant seats, kids were NOT dying in cars. That means that basically the only kids dying in cars are the ones forgotten all day, and are very young. Very young and FORGOTTEN.

    Oh, yes, there’s the odd strangulation from the automatic windows, to which I answer, DON’T LEAVE THE CAR RUNNING WITH THE KID INSIDE. That’s what I remember from my childhood. The cars were NOT left running.

    So yes, children die and are injured more frequently once they step out of the stationary car, or once the car starts moving again, but hey, let’s make it out that the kids who are in GRAVE IMMEDIATE DANGER are the ones sitting in a stationary car.


  17. Dirk. August 19, 2014 at 12:03 pm #


    But the number of people over all has risen…

    In 1950 there were 152,271,417 people in the US.

    in 2012 there were 313,914,000 people in the US.

    One would think there would be more kids dying overall to match the increase of the pure numbers of kids left in cars. You just said “If the car deaths are stagnant, then that means that the number of people accidentally forgetting their children in the car is also stagnant.” But that can’t possible be true. The truth is if car deaths are stagnant then a lower percent of the US population must be leaving their kids in the car, and/or forgetting them, because despite the huge rise in population the number of inside the car kid deaths has remained within the same range. By all accounts as the number of people increased (it has doubled) and the number of car miles traveled as increased (it has increased from by about a factor of 6), and the number of households that have cars has increased (by about 10 percent only), and the number of cars per household has shifted from the majority have 1 or less to the majority having two or more one would think that with every other number rising the number of car deaths would have also risen somehow. It has not.

    The reason is less people are leaving and forgetting their kids in the car. Why do you think that is?

  18. Warren August 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    If less people are leaving their kids in cars, yet the death rate remains static?
    That shows us undeniable proof that leaving your kids in cars to wait is not the cause of these deaths. Thank you for making our point in one simple statement.

  19. Warren August 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    That is your problem. You bring up total population numbers to explain issues with kids.

    Try comparing the percentage of kids under say 10 yrs old in both of your examples.

    We have an aging population. We have lower numbers of kids per family. So your logic sucks.

  20. Dirk. August 19, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    The number of children under age 18 in the United States has grown from 47.3 million in 1950 to 74.1 million in 2010, before decreasing somewhat to 73.6 million in 2013. (Appendix 1) During the 1950s, the heart of the baby boom, the number of children increased by over a third, reaching 64.5 million in 1960. After slower growth in the 1960s, the number of children actually fell during the 1970s and early 1980s, and even by 1990, at 64.2 million, had not quite caught up to 1960 levels. However, growth resumed in the mid-1980s, as baby-boomers reached their peak childbearing years, and there was a rise in immigration. The number of children in the country is projected to continue to increase, to 85.9 million in 2050. – See more at:

  21. Warren August 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    So in 1950 under 18 made up 28.7% of the population.
    And given your numbers in 2013 make up 23.4% of the population. 5% over that many people is large decrease. Thanks for proving my point once again.

  22. Donna August 19, 2014 at 12:30 pm #



    If the number of deaths are actually stagnant (I don’t know that to be true; I thought that they actually increased with the advent of airbags), then the number of people who forget their children to die accidentally in the car is also stagnant. That number may make up a different percentage of the population, but the number of people actually doing it is exactly the same.

    This is an extremely rare thing to occur anyway. My guess as to why the percentage of the population has declined is that the public has been made aware of the problem and people are actually taking measures to ensure that they don’t do this. Of course, humans beings are an imperfect species and some will continue to be forgetful.

    But that is completely irrelevant to what we are talking about. The number of deaths from children intentionally left in the car is only a small handful of the already extremely small number of children who die this way. That indicates that the vast majority of parents have ALWAYS had a good ability to determine whether children were safe being left in the car or not.

  23. Havva August 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Where are you getting that the number of hot car deaths in your own defined time frame form the 50’s or whatever has been stagnant. Because the numbers you were sharing on the 14th and 15th were actually telling a very different story.

    This fact sheet you shared then:
    Stated that:
    “In the three-year period of 1990-1992, before airbags became popular, there were only 11 known deaths of children from heatstroke .”

    i.e. an average of 3-4 deaths per year vs. the 1998-presnent average of 38 per year. Naturally I assumed you were referencing a lack of reduction in the 1998 to present time frame.

  24. SKL August 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    They haven’t been carefully tracking the deaths of kids left in cars for long enough to compare to 1950.

    There have been recent spikes because of rear-facing and air bags and probably other reasons.

    It is likely that every time there is a well-publicized incident of a baby accidentally left in a car to die, parents are a little more careful not to forget, for a while, until the news gets old.

    Of course climate affects the stats as well. Some summers are hotter / sunnier than others etc.

    Possibly car model changes effect the situation too. And preferences. I read somewhere that the color of the car interior had the biggest statistical impact on forgotten kids dying in cars. (Why isn’t that advertised? It seems an easy thing to change.)

    But the fact is that kids forgotten in cars are a completely different issue from parents deciding to leave kids in cars. It’s like the difference between letting your kid swim in a pool, and your kid sneaking out and swimming when you are not aware. Nobody is saying parents should never let their kids swim because some parents who have NOT allowed their kids to swim have experienced tragedies.

  25. Warren August 19, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    Here is some numbers for you to chew on. From the US Dept. of Energy.

    323.71 vehicles per thousand persons

    828.04 vehicles per thousand persons

    Maybe if we find a math wizard to crunch the numbers, population, numbers of vehicles, they could come up with why the death numbers are the way they are.

  26. pentamom August 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    “And preferences. I read somewhere that the color of the car interior had the biggest statistical impact on forgotten kids dying in cars. (Why isn’t that advertised? It seems an easy thing to change.)”

    Please don’t give anyone any ideas. The last thing we need is a campaign based on the idea that your choice of car interior color determines whether you’re a good parent. Or worse, a ban on dark car interiors “for the children.”

  27. Papilio August 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    “the number of people increased (it has doubled)” “and the number of households that have cars has increased (by about 10 percent only)”

    Only 10% – but the population doubled, and because more people live alone (more divorce, less households that include granny (granny staying in her own house longer), young adults moving out sooner, etc), the number of households has probably more than doubled, am I right? So by much has the total number of households with at least one car actually risen? How many of those households include children, whose numbers have only increased by about 50%? Plus the average number of children in poor households is probably higher than in middle class households, so relatively many children could be living in a household without a car (and I don’t need to ask if poverty has risen since 1950…).

    “the number of cars per household has shifted from the majority have 1 or less to the majority having two or more”

    Be more specific. A majority could be as little as 51% (surely someone who’s used to a FPTP system should know that). Also see previous point.

    “the number of car miles traveled as increased (it has increased from by about a factor of 6),”

    Car miles traveled per what? You just said the population has doubled, Warren showed the number of cars per 100 000 people has risen, I bet trip distances have increased, commuting distances for instance, and there must have been a modal shift to the car regardless of trip distance, given that Americans do practically everything by car nowadays, including buying milk 1 mile away and driving their kids to the bus stop. It doesn’t mean there are now more instances in which a child could be left in a car for hours.

    “one would think that with every other number rising the number of car deaths would have also risen somehow.”

    Not necessarily. You bring up numbers and data that could be explained (away) by a whole variety of factors.
    And even if you’re kinda right that more people are aware of the risks and leave their kid with the shady neighbor when they go to their job interview or buy some device/use some trick to NOT forget the baby when they for once need to drop her off at day care before going to work, that STILL shouldn’t have consequences for parents who leave their kids in the car during a short errand/on a mild day.

  28. Emily Morris August 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    That stagnancy thing is exactly why I’m in favor of reminders about your child being in the car (photo on the steering wheel, etc.) Those seem to be useful to help you in case of a slipped mind. Nifty, useful tricks that hopefully may stop an accident.

    But I can’t leave the car to stick a letter in the post office box… I doubt my child is in danger.

  29. Rainer August 19, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    Hysteria aside, it only takes once to loose your child. I would rather side with caution

  30. Warren August 20, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    Err on the side of caution?

    Do you automatically seek underground shelter, as soon as there is a thunderstorm?

    I assume then you do not drive anywhere?

    Showers are out of the question. Do you know how many people slip and fall in the shower every year?

    Sorry, that whole better safe than sorry mentality doesn’t fly. The only time I ever use that sort of thinking is when doing repairs and maintenance, and already have something apart.

  31. Andrea August 20, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Did anyone see this craziness?

    This is the insanity we are dealing with, folks. It is now child abuse to accidentally lock your child in an air conditioned car and immediately call the police.

    Also, it appears some police like to fiddle with the facts a little bit to support their actions.

    I have always been in the “most police are just trying to do the right thing” camp, but recently I’ve had serious doubts about that, and this story doesn’t help.

  32. Mandy August 20, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Good reason to not call the cops. Why not just call AAA? Especially as the car was running.

    When I was in preschool a mom accidentally locked a toddler in the car during pickup (A/C off in Florida). There was a little bit of panic until somebody found a coat hanger. Problem solved in 5 minutes, no broken window, no traumatized kid, and nobody got cited/arrested. Adults used common sense, imagine that.

  33. ad August 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    I’ve never understood this hysteria. What exactly is supposed to stop the kids in the car from opening the door ifit gets too hot?

  34. Trudy W Schuett August 22, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    Well, here’s the deal. Out here in Southern AZ, outside temps get up to 100 degrees plus. Every year, children die after being left in cars. West Coast media has made a big deal about this, continually reminding people about kids left in cars.

    BackEast, where the temperature is more likely to be 70 degrees on a summer day, kids are not under life-threatening conditions. But the generally-unschooled media idiots figure if it works in LA, it’ll work in New Jersey. So they repeat the mantra, never bothering to think about the reality that it just doesn’t get as hot in the East.