Look Before You Lock - Keeping Kids Safe in Hot Cars

Even at a mild 68 degrees, the temperature can climb to over 100 within an hour

Yay for warmer temperatures, but here's something to always keep in mind: even a cool spring or fall day isn’t safe for leaving a child inside a car

Parents often spend a lot of time agonizing over which infant car seat is the safest for their children. They comb through reviews, recall lists, and crash tests. Some even visit car seat technicians to make sure the car seat is installed perfectly. 

Though a good car seat can keep your child safe in a crash, it can’t prevent parents from accidentally leaving their children strapped inside. In 2016, Texas led the nation in the number of hot car infant deaths. 

This alarming trend has gone surprisingly unabated. Since 1990, over 600 children have died from overheating in a car. Yet it took Congress until June 2017 to introduce the Hot Cars Act that would require all cars to have back seat child detection technology. 

Until the bill is passed, the best we can do is to educate ourselves so our children don’t become one of the statistics. Here are some things to keep in mind as the temperature climbs toward the sweltering heat of summer.

Why Do So Many Children Die in Hot Cars?

First, let’s look at the physiology. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s. They have far less surface area for the body’s natural cooling system - sweating - and therefore the evaporative process that cools the skin is less effective.

A demonstration conducted at the Texas Highway Patrol Office in North Austin showed how dangerous it is to leave kids alone in a hot car. The pavement outside their test vehicle measured 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while a thermometer inside the car showed a 19 degree temperature rise in just 10 minutes. 

Within a half hour, the temperature had climbed to 151 degrees. It doesn’t take long for the interior of your vehicle to reach deadly temperatures, which is why you should never leave a sleeping child in the car for “just a minute” on a hot day.

Should We Only Worry About Hot Car Deaths in the Summer?

The answer is no. Even at a mild 68 degrees, the temperature can climb to over 100 within an hour. Considering many of these deaths occur during a 7-8 hour workday, even a cool spring or fall day isn’t safe for leaving a child inside a car. 

How Could Any Parent Forget Their Child in a Car?

Whenever this tragedy happens, it’s easy to pass judgment. Parents often say they’d never do that to their child. Or that only neglectful or malicious parents would do that. But that’s far from the truth. 

The truth is, even the best parents can forget their child is still locked in their car seat. It stems from the habitual center of the brain which essentially puts us on autopilot for our daily schedules. For instance, once we’ve driven the same route over and over, we eventually don’t have to think about it. 

Changes in our routine - such as when a dad needs to drop the child off at daycare, though it’s usually the mom who does that -  sometimes cannot override that automatic routine. Stress on top of that increases the odds of forgetting a child in the backseat, especially if that child is asleep and silent. 

How Can We Prevent Hot Car Deaths?

There are, fortunately, many things parents can do to prevent such tragedies. Some of the simplest involves changing up our routines to make it harder to forget a child in the back seat. 

  • Make it a habit to never leave a child (or elderly person or a pet) alone in a car for even a minute. This goes for a sleeping child too. It’s better to have a fussy baby than the other outcome.
  • Always check the front and back seats of the car before you lock and leave it.
  • Put things you need (purse, wallet, cell phone, etc) in the back seat right by the car seat.
  • Put the baby’s diaper bag in the passenger seat beside you for another visual cue.
  • Inform all routine caregivers to call you if your child is absent, unless they’ve heard from you first.
  • Use drive-thru services whenever possible, such as restaurants, dry cleaners, banking, etc.
  • Always lock the car when no one’s inside to keep curious young children from accidentally getting trapped.

Why Are Cars Not Equipped With Sensors to Alert Parents?

Though this technology is not mandatory yet (unless the Hot Cars Act passes), the good news is that there are some products on the market designed to alert us when a child is left in the car. Here are a few of them:

Baby Alert International’s ChildMinder SoftClip: A digital shoulder harness clip that you use instead of the one that comes with the car seat. It works with a key fob or smartphone app, sounding an alarm 8 seconds after you get to more than 15 feet away from the car. 

Kars 4 Kids Safety App: This free safety app works with your car’s Bluetooth and sounds an alarm every time you turn off the engine and the phone disconnects from the car. You can turn it off when you’re not driving your baby, but can also use it for other things, like remembering to carry in the groceries.
Sunshine Baby iRemind Car Seat Alarm: Goes under the seat pad of the car seat and detects weight as low as a pound, so it activates whenever you put your baby in the car seat. If you get further than 15 feet away from the car, it sends an alarm through your smartphone or a key fob.

Driver’s Little Helper: This one also fits under the car seat padding to detect weight. The best thing about it, is that it sends texts or emails to your smartphone instead of an alarm, and if you don’t answer, it will surf your contact list and send alerts to your family/friends. 

Evenflo Advanced Embrace DLX Infant Car Seat with SensorSafe: One of the first car seats with a built-in sensor, it’s designed for babies up to 12 months or 35 lbs. It has a wireless receiver that plugs into your car’s diagnostic port, which lets it know when the engine is off. Rather like the alarm that sounds when you leave your headlights on, it beeps with a series of tones to remind you to check if your child is still in the car seat.

GMC 2017 Arcadia: Possibly the only car today with a Rear Seat Reminder, an alert system similar to a headlight or trunk open alarm. This is the type of technology the Hot Cars Act of 2017 would require in all vehicles if it passes. It’s activated if the rear door is opened and closed up to ten minutes before you start the vehicle or after it’s running. When the ignition is turned off, it sends both an alarm and a visual reminder message that displays on the vehicle’s dashboard. 

What’s the Takeaway Message?

Your best bet to keep your child safe is a quality car seat. Read detailed reviews of top-rated convertible (starts as a rear-facing and transitions into a front-facing seat) and infant (rear-facing position only) models. As an extra layer of protection, try some of the new technology available.

However, while new technology is available to help prevent hot car deaths, nothing is 100% foolproof. 

It is crucial that you develop habits that add more back seat vigilance to your routine in order to prevent that your child will be another statistic.

Keep Your Kids Safe.

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About Birgit Sund
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