It's mid-July. Arguably the hottest time of the year - and while our busy lives keep us on the move, it's crucial to address a topic that demands our utmost attention: leaving children unattended in hot cars. This happens very frequently, and is mostly accidental. Every year, tragic incidents occur due to this preventable mistake. When I worked at UK in the PICU, we would see these type of accidents at least 3-5 times a summer, mostly from parents entirely forgetting their child was in the car. It's essential to understand the dangers involved and establish a clear understanding of what is considered safe and what is not. After all, humans are forgetful, and if your child is napping or being quiet, it can be easy to forget they're back there! In the hot summer months, this will quickly turn deadly.
Leaving children unattended in vehicles, even for a short period, poses significant risks. I want to emphasize on the "short period" part. It takes very little time for the interior of a car to reach extremely dangerous temperatures. The interior temperature of a car can soar to dangerous levels within minutes, especially in hot weather like what we're experiencing now in Kentucky. Heatstroke, dehydration, suffocation, and even death can occur rapidly under such conditions. Children's bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults', making them particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
Understanding Safe Practices:
Never Leave Children Unattended in a Hot Vehicle: It's imperative to emphasize that children should never be left alone in a car, regardless of the situation. This applies to infants, toddlers, and somewhat older children. I'm not saying it isn't alright to leave an older child (10-12) in an air conditioned car while you run in to get gas or grab food. At that age, they're old enough to know what to do should something go wrong, but with younger children, even a quick errand can turn into a prolonged absence due to unforeseen circumstances, further heightening the risks.
Parked Car Safety Measures: When transporting children, employ safety measures such as placing your bag, briefcase, or phone in the back seat as a reminder that the child is present. Additionally, lock your vehicle at all times, preventing children from entering without supervision. Again, we are trying to prevent forgetting about your children and leaving them unattended accidentally.
Keep Keys Out of Reach: Ensure that children cannot access car keys or remote fobs. Unsupervised access to these items can lead to them inadvertently locking themselves inside vehicles, or worse, turning the car off, potentially resulting in dangerous situations.
Communication and Awareness: Educate children about the potential dangers of being left alone in a car and encourage them to alert a responsible adult if they find themselves unintentionally locked inside. It is equally important for adults to stay vigilant, always double-checking the presence of all occupants before exiting the vehicle.
How can you keep your kids safe from hot cars?
The first step is to never leave your young child alone in a car, even for a moment.
The second step is to be sure to take kids out of the car once you reach your destination. It’s helpful to set an obvious reminder to do so, like:
Leave an important item in the back seat of your car. This could be a briefcase or phone, for example. Because you need the item, you’ll be more likely to check your backseat before leaving the vehicle.
Set up calendar reminders if you're a schedule oriented person. Some parents accidentally go to work and forget that they have kids or babies in the car. To prevent this, set an alert on your phone that reminds you to stop at daycare first.
Lastly, in order to help keep your own children and other kids safe around hot cars, be sure to:
Keep your car locked at all times. This will protect kids from getting in by accident or when they are playing. Also, make sure keys are out of their reach.
Use extra caution with rear-facing car seats. They look the same from the driver’s seat, whether a child is in them or not.
Try using drive-thru’s at restaurants or other locations. This way, you don’t have to leave the car.
Call 911 if you see a child alone in car.
Accidentally leaving children unattended in cars is an action that can have severe consequences. The risks of heatstroke, dehydration, and other dangers associated with extreme temperatures make it imperative to prioritize the safety and well-being of our children at all times. By adopting preventative measures, staying informed about the potential risks, and adhering to safe practices, we can work together to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable passengers. Let us remember that our children's lives depend on our attention, care, and responsible actions.