Safety and Injury Prevention

The Dangers of Leaving Your Child Alone in a Car

Mom and kiddo standing outside of a carHas this happened to you? You’re driving home after a busy morning and your child falls asleep in the backseat of the car. When you get home, you think about cracking the car windows open and leaving your child there until they wake up. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

While it’s tempting to leave your child alone in the car, it’s not safe. About 38 children in the United States die from heat stroke each year after being trapped in a car. Some of the children were left there by mistake, some were left on purpose and some were using the car as a place to play.

What is the harm in leaving a child alone in the car?

Heat stroke (hyperthermia) is the biggest danger. Heat stroke can damage the brain and other body organs. It can even lead to death. It doesn’t take long for a child’s body temperature to become too high very fast when left in a car because:

  • The temperature inside a car can increase 20 degrees in just 10 minutes and 40 degrees in an hour. It doesn’t have to feel hot outside to be dangerous inside a car. Deaths have happened when it’s just above 70 degrees F (Fahrenheit) outside. Leaving the windows open slightly does not prevent the temperature from rising to a dangerous level.
  • A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s body. Children have a lot of body surface area that absorbs heat. Children’s bodies have not yet developed the ability to cool down well.

Most of the children who have died from heat stroke after being left alone in a car were 3 and under, but it has happened to kids as old as 14.

Other risks of leaving a child alone in the car include being trapped in a trunk, setting the car in motion or being taken from the car.

What can I do to protect my child from these dangers?

Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, even for a minute!

You might think you would never forget your child in the back, but it can happen to anyone. Busy schedules, lack of sleep and changes in routine can distract us easier than you think.

Set up a system to check the backseat of your car for your child every time you get out. Your system may include setting your cell phone, purse, gym bag or briefcase on the floor near your child. This will help you see your child when you open the door to get the item. Or set your smart phone or electronic calendar to give you a reminder to be sure you dropped your child off at daycare each morning.

Another idea is to ask your daycare provider to call you within a few minutes if your child is late for daycare. Or, keep a large stuffed animal in the car seat when your child is not with you. Move it to the front seat where you will notice it when your child is with you – it can act as a reminder.

More ways to protect your child:

  • Do not allow your child to play in a car.
  • Lock all doors and the trunk after everyone is out of the car.
  • Keep all keys out of the reach of your child.
  • If a child goes missing, check the pool first if you have one. Then check the car, including the trunk.

What should I do if I see a child left alone inside a car?

Call 911 right away if you see a child left alone in a car. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible.

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