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What Every Parent Needs to Know About Preventing Hot Car Deaths

baby in car seat
Image source: Thinkstock

We’re officially in the dog days of summer. Temperatures are spiking across the nation. The air is heavy and it seems as though this heat will never let up. This is the time of year when we hear a lot about heat-related injuries — specifically, hot car deaths.

Surely, hot car deaths are unpleasant to talk about. We wince whenever we hear about them. We hate to think of this preventable tragedy happening to us — to our children. We swear to ourselves that we’re so careful that something like this could never happen to us.

But hot car deaths happen.

According to NoHeatStroke.org, 719 children have died of heatstroke after being left in cars since 1998. This means that on average, 37 will suffer the same tragic fate by the end of this year. Small children don’t regulate their body temperature the same way adults do, causing them to overheat three to five times faster.

A hot car death can happen when a baby or toddler is left accidentally strapped in their car seat or becomes trapped in a vehicle that rapidly heats up. Typically, these events occur when something happens to throw parents off their routine, such as an unexpected stop or being late.

Here’s what we can do to prevent hot car deaths from happening and how to react if they do:

1. Always lock your car doors and secure your keys.

I used to be in the habit of tossing my keys on a table in my foyer as soon as I walked in the door, but this seemingly innocent habit can prove deadly. If your kids have access to your keys, they can get into your car without you even knowing it. We like to think we’re super vigilant parents who are going to notice every single move our kids make, but it only takes a split second for your child to grab your keys and get into your car. By the time you realize something is amiss, it might be too late.

If your kids can get into your car without you knowing it they can lock themselves in. Aside from the danger of your child starting the ignition and setting the family car in motion, think about how quickly the inside of your car heats up when there’s no air conditioning blowing. Just because your kids figured out how to unlock your car and lock themselves inside, doesn’t mean they know how to get themselves out or realize how dangerous the heat is.

Keep your car locked when you’re home and store the keys in a place where your little ones can’t get to them. Also, if you’re ever in the position of being unable to find your child, the car (including the trunk) should be the first place you check, followed by the pool, if you have one.

2. Put something you need in the back seat.

I used to always throw my bag on the passenger seat whenever I took my kids somewhere. Like most moms out there, I carry a huge handbag stocked with everything under the sun, so it takes up quite a bit of space. Now, I place it on the back seat floor, right under where my kid’s booster seat sits. Why? Because when I get out of my car, I want to stash my keys in my bag, causing me to open my rear door to retrieve my bag.

3. Get smart on the latest technology.

There is all kinds of evolving technology to remind you to check your back seat. The technology is out there and it can save lives — use it!

Devices that help keep your child safe:

Sensorsafe is built into certain Evenflo car seat models as a system to remind parents that their child is in the back seat with a sensor located in the chest clasp that interfaces with an app installed on the parent’s phone.

Additionally, Driver’s Little Helper is a car seat monitor that can be purchased at retail stores and installed under the padding of your existing car seat.

Both Sensorsafe and Driver’s Little Helper send push notifications to your phone if you stop and exit your vehicle without opening one of the rear doors. If you don’t respond to the notification, an email is sent to your list of emergency contacts.

General Motors Rear Seat Reminder System is a feature in 20 GM vehicles that uses back door sensors that become activated when either the rear door is opened or closed within 10 minutes of the vehicle being started, or while the vehicle is running. When you reach your destination, a reminder appears on the dashboard, as well as an audible chime notification.

Apps that put kids first:

Waze is a popular navigation app that now allows you to set reminders for yourself not to leave your child in the car.

Baby on Board is an Android app that works with your car’s Bluetooth technology. It’s designed to send your phone a reminder to check your back sets when your ignition shuts off.

Kars 4 Kids Safety app works much the same way, and allows you to disable the reminders when your child is not with you.

Even kids are committed to reducing the number of hot car deaths. An 11-year old boy from Texas has a patent pending for a sensor that activates a fan to cool off a child while help arrives. A fifth-grader from Tennessee invited the EZ Baby Saver that a parent can build themselves using rubber bands. The EZ Baby Saver flips over your seat and straps to your door. It springs forward and blocks your path when the driver’s side door is open, reminding you to check your back seat.

4. If you see something, do something.

If it’s 95°F outside and you see a toddler sleeping in the backseat of a parked car, react. Don’t question whether you should get involved. Don’t take 10 minutes trying to find the child’s mother in the store – that 10 minutes could be the difference between life and death. Find a way to get the child out of the car. This fact sheet from safecar.gov offers tips on how to respond to a heat-related injury.

Be aware. Take precautions. Be informed. Help. Keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility.

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