Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Hidden Threats to Children In and Around Vehicles

October 26, 2017

We have made great strides in reducing injuries and deaths to children involved in crashes. However, there are other hidden dangers to children in and around vehicles not in motor vehicle traffic that may go underrecognized.

My colleagues from and I recently published an article in Traffic Injury Prevention describing the frequency of various nontraffic incidents, injuries, and fatalities to children 0-14 years from 1990-2014 in the United States using a unique surveillance system and database, These events were identified using various resources including media reports, individual accounts from victims and their families, medical examiner reports, police reports, child death review teams, coroner reports, medical professionals, and attorneys, among others.

There were over 11,750 distinct incidents in a variety of venues and vehicles affecting 14,568 children 14 years and younger, resulting in nearly 3,400 deaths, with an average age of 42 months. The most common incident types were: children unattended in hot vehicles (3,115 incidents and 729 deaths), backovers (2,251 incidents and 1,232 deaths), and frontovers (1,439 incidents and 692 deaths), among others.

This study is unique since it used data from many different sources and highlights the multimodal approach of injury surveillance that cannot be completed using traditional methods, such as recruiting patients from a hospital databases, since many of these patients did not necessarily seek medical care. Additionally, while injury diagnosis and coding from lexicons such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is very useful for epidemiological research, the ICD does not have all possible mechanisms of potential and actual injury as captured in our study.

These nontraffic incidents present an important and often underreported threat to the safety and lives of young children, and are completely preventable with continued education, engineering modifications, advocacy, and legislation.

Moderator's note: Check out a previous blog post for backover prevention ideas from the international community. This blog post also shares links to various child vehicle heatstroke prevention efforts.

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