A child left in a hot car–or who gets into an unlocked vehicle unnoticed–can die of heat stroke very quickly. Dozens of U.S. children lose their lives this way each year. But these tragedies can be prevented.
Here is what parents need to know about the danger of hot cars, and steps they can take to help keep their children safe.
Facts about hot cars & heat stroke
- Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in children under 15. Heat stroke happens when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough.
- A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s does.
- When left in a hot car, a child’s major organs begin to shut down when his temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (F).
- A child can die when his temperature reaches 107 degrees F.
- Cars heat up quickly! In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees F.
- Cracking a window and/or air conditioning does little to keep it cool once the car is turned off.
- Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees F.
- Because of climate change, we can expect more days to be hotter. Also, hotter days can happen throughout the year.
Things you can do to prevent the unthinkable
Keep in mind: Any parent or caregiver, even a very loving and attentive one, can forget a child is in the back seat. Being especially busy or distracted or having a change from the usual routine increases the risk.
Here are some safety reminders from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Always check the back seat and make sure all children are out of the car before locking it and walking away.
- Avoid distractions while driving, especially cell phone use.
- Be extra alert when there is a change in your routine, like when someone else is driving your child or you take a different route to work or child care.
- Have your child care provider call if your child is more than 10 minutes late.
- Put your cell phone, bag, or purse in the back seat, so you check the back seat when you arrive at your destination.
- If someone else is driving your child, always check to make sure he has arrived safely.
- Keep your car locked when it is parked to prevent a curious child from entering when no one is around. Many hot car deaths have occurred when a child mistakenly locks himself inside.
- Make sure children do not have easy access to your car keys. Store them out of a child’s reach.
- Teach children that cars are not safe places to play.
- Keep rear fold-down seats closed to prevent a child from crawling into the trunk from inside the car.
- Remind children that cars, especially car trunks, should not be used for games like hide-and-seek.
Important Tip: If a child is missing, always check the pool first, and then the car, including the trunk!
Take action if you see a child alone in a car
If you see an unattended child in a car and are concerned, you should immediately call 911.
If the child is not responsive or is in pain, immediately:
If the child is responsive:
Know the laws in your state:
Although legislation has been introduced, there is currently no federal law in place to prevent child heat stroke deaths in cars. However, many states have passed laws that set limits on whether or how long a child can be left in a car. This is especially common in warm-weather states. For example, in California, children under seven can’t be left alone in any vehicle unless supervised by someone who’s at least 12 years old. In Florida, children under six cannot be left alone in a vehicle longer than 15 minutes if the car is turned off, and if the vehicle is running, the child can’t be left alone inside it at all.
Check the laws in your state here. Remember, it is NOT safe to leave a young child alone in a car for any length of time.