Kids and hot cars: How to prevent child vehicular heat stroke

As temperatures heat up, emergency responders want to remind you of how you can keep kids safe and prevent them from being left or trapped in a hot car.
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 5:34 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - As temperatures heat up, emergency responders want to remind you of how you can keep kids safe and prevent them from being left or trapped in a hot car.

There are three reasons children die due to being in a hot car. The first is the child forgotten by a parent or caregiver. The caregiver may be dealing with stress and be out of their routine, and their brain goes into autopilot. If the caregiver is distracted, they could forget about the child in the car.

“Leaving children in a car is a bigger problem than most people might consider,” said Battlefield Protection District Fire Chief Shane Anderson. “A lot of people think it is a certain type of person or someone who is irresponsible that leaves their child in a car, but the data shows that they have a wide variety of backgrounds. Engineers, doctors, lawyers, and even school teachers. It sounds horrible, but if you’ve ever been in a vehicle and you got on autopilot, that’s an indicator that it could happen to you.”

Follow the Look before you Lock guidelines to prevent forgetting a child in the car.

  • As temperatures heat up, emergency responders want to remind you of a few ways you can keep kids safe and prevent them from being left or trapped in a hot car.
  • If you are driving a child after you correctly buckle them in a car seat or booster seat—put something you need at your destination in the back seat so you will open the back door: a cellphone, employee badge, handbag, or another item you need to keep with you, even your left shoe!
  • Ask your babysitter or child care provider to call you if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. Place it on the front passenger seat as a reminder when the child is in the back seat.
  • Set the alarm on your cell phone or computer calendar as a reminder to drop your child off at child care. Remember to make the alarm song/sound different from all other alert sounds on your device.
  • If you change routines, such as your spouse or parent dropping your child off at child care instead of you, make sure you and the other person communicate to confirm the drop-off was completed.
  • Consider technology that alerts drivers to check the back seat. (Vehicle and child restraint manufacturers have been working on evolving alert systems and some technologies are available now!)

The second reason for child vehicular heat death is the child is intentionally left in the car. If a child is sleeping or the caregiver is running errands, leaving the child in the vehicle may be tempting for “just a few minutes.”

Even on mild or cloudy days, temperatures in a car can reach life-threatening levels. Children’s bodies heat up 3-5 times faster than adults and can suffer heatstroke in as little as 10 minutes.

“People that think, Oh, it’ll just be a couple of minutes, I’m going to hurry, and they don’t realize how quickly your car can heat up,” said Anderson. “A car in just 10 minutes can increase 19 degrees on the inside. Even if it’s 57 degrees outside, when you have heat coming into that car, it gets trapped in the car. It’s like a greenhouse.”

In 30 minutes, it can be 50 degrees warmer inside a car than the outside temperature. According to the National Safety Council, things like parking in the shade and cracking the windows make little difference in helping keep the car cool. Emergency responders want to remind caregivers that leaving a child in the car for even a few minutes is never ok.

“If you’ve ever sat in a car waiting on a friend to go in and pay a bill or pay for gas or something if they take too long, it starts to get a little uncomfortable, and so you can imagine what it’s like for a child so, so even if you just think it’s just a few minutes and you run in, you know, it can be devastating for your child,” said Anderson.

According to the National Safety Council, a car can still reach life-threatening temperatures even when parked in the shade and having the windows cracked.

25% of these deaths result from children finding their way into a vehicle and getting trapped inside. This could be because they were playing hide and seek or wanted to play in the car and could not get themselves out.

“The parents are in some cases even a neighbor has not locked their vehicle, and so they find a way into the front seat of the backseat in some cases, the trunk of a car,” said Anderson. “One case that happened just recently, at a speedway, a family was involved with a motocross event, and one of their children, their children, was five years old and decided to play hide and go seek. He crawled into the trunk of the car, and they couldn’t find him, and he overheated and unfortunately passed away from inside the car.”

To prevent a child from getting trapped inside a vehicle

  • Lock the car at all times, even if its in a garage or driveway
  • Teach children that vehicles are not play places
  • Make sure children don’t have access to keys or fobs
  • Tell children they need to ask an adult if they need something from the car
  • Teach children that if they get trapped in a car, honk the horn for help.

If you see a child left unattended in a car, call 911 and have someone else try to locate the driver. If the child is in distress, get the child out of the vehicle and perform first aid until help arrives.

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