Hot summer days can be a great opportunity to take a break by the pool or take the family on a fun-filled vacation at the beach! Tragically, hot days can also be a life-threatening danger to kids left in the car (and pets, too!), even for a few minutes.
Hot car deaths are the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for kids under age 15 in the U.S. Every year, 30-50 children die from heatstroke resulting from being left in a vehicle unattended. And with a seemingly endless streak of the hottest summers on record, this may become an even more critical matter in the coming years.
Even the most loving and attentive parents and caregivers can get distracted and forget about a child in the car, especially if their routine is changed or they’re feeling rushed. This can be especially true when a caregiver is taking a group of kids on an outing or field trip in a van or bus. Children can fall asleep and easily be hidden from view when the caregiver is checking the vehicle for children.
Some deaths are even caused by children crawling into a car and becoming trapped. Kids love to play hide-and-seek and they see an open car or truck as being the perfect hiding spot. Be sure you car is secured and teach kids not to play in or around vehicles—sound advice for many reasons.
Ironically, it doesn’t even have to be “hot” outside for a car to become a hazard for a child. At even a modest 60 degrees outside, a car can reach over 110 degrees inside. Even leaving a window open a crack or parking in the shade often isn’t enough to offset the heat build-up inside. A car left in the sun can warm up 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes! Never leave a child unattended in a car even for a few moments.
Sitting in a hot car, even briefly, can quickly increase a child’s risk of heatstroke. Heatstroke happens when the body us not able to cool itself quickly enough to compensate for the surrounding temperature. Children’s body temperatures typically increase much more rapidly than an adult (up to 3 to 5 times faster) and can suffer from heatstroke if their body temperature reaches 104. At that temperature, their major organs begin to shutdown and if left in that condition, they can die if their body temperature reaches 107.
The good news is that these deaths are preventable! While we’re all susceptible to distractions and memory failures, we can take steps to remind us to check for children in our vehicle to minimize and hopefully eliminate these incidents.
Here are some tips and reminders for parents and caregivers to prevent hot car deaths:
- As much as possible, limit distractions while driving, especially cell phone use (a good tip at all times!).
- Use a visual reminder, such as a teddy bear, in the front passenger seat to remind you of the child in the back.
- Put something you need, such as your lunch, a purse or phone, in the back seat next to the child so you will see them when you retrieve your item.
- Work out a system between the child care provider and parent to notify if the child is late without any notice from parent.
- Use a visual sign, such as “Baby On Board”, in the front seat to remind you of your precious cargo!
- Be sure kids do not have access to your car keys.
- Keep rear fold-down seats in the closed position when not in use to prevent children from getting trapped.
- Make it a habit to always check the back seat, even when your child isn’t with you.
- Lock your vehicle to prevent children from playing inside and getting trapped. Remind children that vehicles are not a place to play games.
- Be sure to pass along these tips for anyone transporting your child!
For child care providers:
- Have at least 2 people check the vehicle independently to ensure no child is left behind.
- Write down the names of the children as they board the vehicle and then check off as they exit. Look at each child as they exit to assure a match to the name.
- Thoroughly check the vehicle after all children have exited, including under seats, for any child who may have fallen asleep or is hiding.
Keeping our children safe is the responsibility of all adults. If you see an alert child in an unattended car, look around for the parent or use the facility's paging system to help locate them. Don’t wait more than a few minutes, though, before calling for help.
If the child is unresponsive or appears in distress, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you can remove the child from the vehicle, get them to a cool area and spray or douse them with cool water. Do not give fluids to an unresponsive child. Gently bring their temperature down. A sudden and extreme change in temperature could put their bodies in shock. Regardless of the situation, stay with the child until help arrives.
Signs of heatstroke include:
- severe headache
- weakness, dizziness
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- loss of consciousness
- no sweating
- flushed, hot, dry skin
- temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher
We all want to protect our children and keep them safe and comfortable. By adopting some basic safety routines, we can prevent these tragedies from occurring! Have a great summer and be safe!
For more information, try these resources:
Transportation Safety (for Child Care Centers)
Look Before You Lock PSA (video)
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”
~ Mr. Rogers ~