Kids In The Car? Summer-ize Your Safety Plan

father taking baby son out of carSummer’s heat presents special risks to children traveling in the back seat: Roughly 800 children died from heatstroke after accidentally being locked in hot cars between 1990 and 2015, according to the nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars.

These tragedies are preventable, says Dawne Gardner, an injury prevention specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center. “Normally kids—and pets, too—can’t escape if they’re locked in a car,” Gardner says. “They depend on adults to protect them.” Here’s how to update your safety plans for the season:

Keep your car locked, windows up

More than a quarter of kids who died of heatstroke in cars got in the vehicle by themselves, according to Kids and Cars. Leaving the windows open to cool down a car’s interior is not worth the risk of a child crawling into it. “When the car is stationary, it should be locked,” Gardner says. Roll up windows, and lock the doors and trunk to prevent kids from climbing in without you noticing.

Guard your keys

Kids love to play with keys. (Hey, it’s fun to make the car beep by pushing a button!) But if you let your little ones treat keys like a toy, they could accidentally let themselves in while you’re, say, unloading groceries from the trunk. In just 10 minutes a car’s interior can heat up by more than 19 degrees. Buy a set of pretend keys for little ones instead, and hang the real deal out of reach.

Teach safety

Make it a hard-and-fast rule in your house that the car is a no-play zone, and give children some examples they can relate to—but also won’t find too scary. Try something like, “Do you see dogs driving cars? No! Do you see kids driving cars? No! That’s because only grown-ups drive cars. And you can only be in a car when an adult is with you.” Or, “Have you ever seen a car in a toy store? Can you imagine squeezing one between the dolls and games? That’s because cars aren’t toys, of course! We never play in cars.”

Plant a backseat reminder

You’re running errands, lost in thought, and your little one has dozed off in the back seat. As a reminder to always (always!) take your child with you—even if you have to wake them—leave something else vital, like your purse, phone or lunch, on the back seat. This routine will ensure that you won’t forget a sleeping child, even when you’re on autopilot. (Read 10 more tips on baby safety with this primer for new parents.)

Schedule backup support

Changes in routine—like switching up which parent drops off a child or returning to work after a vacation—can make you prone to forgetting your child in the car, Gardner says. Enlist the help of your child’s daycare provider and babysitters by asking them to call you when they notice your child has not arrived by a designated time. It can mean the difference between a child who’s forgotten for a few minutes versus one who is overlooked for several hours.

Leave the engine running, AC on

We’ve all been there: You get to your destination but your baby has fallen asleep in the back seat, and you don’t want to wake her. Don’t turn off the car and wait, because you can’t necessarily gauge when the car has become too hot. Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’, so they could be in danger of fatal heatstroke when you’re just sweating. Even cracking a window doesn’t provide enough circulation. “Even if you can stand it, your kid can’t,” Gardner says. Either stay in the car with the AC on or bring her inside immediately.

Don’t wait—call 911

“If you see a child left alone in a car, you have to be proactive in making sure she gets out—now,” says Gardner. The fastest way to do that is to call 911. You may hesitate to call in the cavalry, but there’s no way of knowing how long a child has been left behind, or when the adult is coming back. Never assume you’ll be able to coach a child to unlock the car door either.

By Catherine Ryan Gregory

Next article: 11 Emergency Essentials to Keep in Your Car

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  1. Valdreace Williams says

    All of these hints are very helpful even if you never leave your child in the car. Being prepared an proactive are essential. Thanks

  2. Lou b thomas says

    I do t have any kids , baby grand child is 16 year of age, and the people I know since I move from New York is unfriendly so I don’t know any one but my brother inlaw. That live next door to me

  3. sherrie says

    Im a parent but all my kids are grown up.but i have 3 grandbabies and they get in my car but i take the keys out and put the windows down and i dont allow any animals in my car.and when we go to the store me and my daughter makes sure the kids are with us.i seen to many death about kids being killed in cars.

  4. Robert Yegon says

    I feel scared to even think that somebody can forget his most precious living thing in his car and Hindi other things evening if it’s not about the heat on the car.

    • Yolanda Amos says

      I agree. I really don’t understand how people can be so focused on what they need to accomplish at that moment and forget about their precious cargo. However, it unfortunately happens to often. Parents and Guardians please don’t forget your beautiful babies and pets in your cars. They are very important to you abd to me too.

      • Ronald Lang says

        I can understand it happens anyand I have empathy for those who have gone through this ordeal it’s no picnic and I wouldn’t rub it on anyone