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

These temperatures are brutal, and it's only May! 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 900 children have died from overheating in a car.

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.

Keep Your Kids Safe.

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About Birgit Sund
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