How to Prevent Dangers to Infants and Kids in Hot Cars

Infant in rear-facing car seat

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

You want to keep your baby and kids safe in the car, but one of the hidden risks is for a child to be left or trapped in a hot car. An average of 38 kids per year die from being in a hot car in the U.S. In some cases on a relatively mild day with only 70 degrees F temperatures.

As a parent, you can only begin to imagine the heartbreak over these tragedies. The majority of deaths were completely unintentional, with the child unknowingly left in the car or the child getting into the car on their own.

Situations in which kids get hurt in hot cars include:

  • Infants and toddlers are simply forgotten in their car seat
  • Infants and toddlers are intentionally left in a hot car
  • Kids get trapped in the trunk
  • Toddlers or preschoolers sneak into the car to play and can't get out

The Danger of a Hot Car for an Infant or Child

On a typical summer day, the temperature inside a car (even with the windows rolled down a little) can quickly rise above 120 to 140 F. Even on a relatively mild day, the temperature inside a car can get above 100 F. At those temperatures, kids are at great risk for heat stroke, which can lead to a high fever, dehydration, seizures, stroke, and death.

Hot Car Safety Tips for Parents

To keep your kids safe:

  • Always lock your car and secure the keys so that your kids can't get to them at home.
  • Don't leave your child in a car, which can quickly heat up, especially on a hot, sunny day.
  • Get your kids out of the car first, and then worry about getting the groceries, etc., out of the car next.
  • If you are getting a new car, consider one that has a back-seat reminder.
  • Make it a habit to check the back seat each time you get out of the car before you lock the door, even if you aren't transporting your child. Doing this every time will instill the habit.
  • Make sure that child care providers and daycare workers have a plan to ensure that kids aren't left in the provider's car or van. In addition, make a plan that if the child has not arrived at the daycare by a certain time, caregivers should call the parents to make sure the child wasn't forgotten in the car.
  • Never let children play in a car, as this encourages them to think of the car as a place to play.
  • Place a small toy or colorful note in your child's car seat when it's empty. Move it to your dashboard when you place your child in the car seat. This will help remind you that you have a child in the back seat.
  • Teach children that if they are ever stuck in a car and can't get out, to climb into the driver's seat and honk the horn. They may need to use their feet to have enough pressure to sound the horn. Tell them to keep honking until an adult comes to rescue them.
  • Warn your kids about playing in the car by themselves without adult supervision.

Be on alert for cars that might have an unattended child left inside. If you see a child alone in a car, be sure to call 911 and help make sure the child gets out as soon as possible.

When a child is missing, check the backyard pool and any other nearby bodies of water right away (as drowning kills within minutes). Next, check inside the car and trunk of any nearby vehicles.

Kids in Cool Cars Are Also at Risk

The danger of being left alone isn't limited to kids getting overheated. Simply leaving the car running and the air conditioning on doesn't make your child any safer, even if it is just for a few minutes. Your child might be abducted, put the car into drive, or even get caught in a closing power window.

Use the drive-through if it is available or take your kids inside, even if you will just be a few minutes. Don't leave your kids alone in the car. It just isn't safe. Besides that simple fact, 20 states have laws against leaving children in vehicles unattended.

A Word from Verywell

The majority of deaths and injuries to children in hot cars are unintentional and can happen even in the most caring families. You can develop habits that will reduce your risks. Never leave a child unattended in the car, even for a couple of minutes. Always check the back seat before you lock your car, even when you haven't been transporting your child.

Lock your car every time you leave it, even when it is in your driveway or garage. Find a secure place to store your car keys, so your child won't have access to them. If you see a child trapped in a hot car, take immediate action.

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2 Sources
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  1. Hot car deaths. National Safety Council, Injury Facts.

  2. National Safety Council. Kids in hot cars.