Steer Clear of a Hot Car Tragedy
Each year, some good parents make a horrible mistake and leave their child in a hot car by accident
It’s a horror no parent thinks will ever happen. And yet it keeps happening: Some 38 kids die each year from being left in a hot car, according to the nonprofit child safety organizationkidsandcars.org. We’ve all read about these tragedies — so why hasn’t the increased awareness stopped them altogether?
“We’re all a little harried nowadays,” says Jennifer Newman, a car-safety expert and managing editor at cars.com. “When you have kids, you’re already sleep-deprived, preoccupied and distracted. It doesn’t take much to make you forget your child is in the back seat.”
Even a simple change in your routine can raise the risk of overlooking your precious cargo. Maybe your spouse usually drops your child off at daycare but you have to pinch-hit one morning. You may be so used to driving straight to the office that you forget to make the side trip. Instead, drive straight to the office and leave your child in the back seat, especially if she is fast asleep.
What makes a tragic scenario like that one doubly sad is that it’s easily prevented.
Tricks to prevent a tragedy
It doesn’t take more than a few simple safeguards, like these, to keep your kid on your radar.
And remember: A car ride doesn’t have to end in disaster for kids to become seriously overheated. Never leave a child in a car unattended, even for a minute.
Put a crucial item you’ll need after exiting the car, like your purse, in the car seat next to your child, advises Petra Vybiralova, the Safe Kids supervisor at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Run the seatbelt through the handles, so the bag doesn’t become a projectile if you have an accident,” she says.
Keep a tag on your shifter. Safe Kids often gives out tags that say “LOOK BEFORE YOU LOCK.” You can make your own, too. Just cut a hole out of a rectangular piece of paper (like the “Do Not Disturb” sign you hang on the knob of a hotel door). That way you’ll have a reminder at your fingertips, literally.
Ask your child’s daycare or school to phone you if he doesn’t show up on time, Vybiralova advises. That call asking if everything’s okay can be a lifesaving reminder that you skipped a drop-off. If you’re taking your little one someplace else, ask your partner to call you a few minutes after the scheduled handover to make sure it went off without a hitch.
Try the stuffed animal trick. “Some people put a large stuffed animal in their child’s car seat when the child isn’t in it. When the parent is driving the child somewhere, she puts the stuffed animal in the passenger seat as a visual reminder that her kid is in the back,” says Newman.
Keep your car locked at all times. Not all children who die in hot cars are infants. According to research conducted at San Francisco State University, 29 percent are children who entered a hot car on their own, then couldn’t figure out how to get out. Keep the doors locked even when the car is in your garage, and keep the keys out of children’s reach.
Keeping kids cool in the back seat
On a hot day, kids can overheat in the car even while you’re driving, especially if the AC isn’t working well. Use these tips to keep them comfortable.
Give him a lightweight sippy cup of cool water, says Vybiralova.
When buying a new car, check out the back seats to make sure they get decent air flow. Look for side vents, and take a ride in the back seat yourself just to get a feel for what passengers will feel. If you’re warm, your child will be even warmer — kids’ bodies can’t cool themselves as effectively as adults’, so their body temperature rises three to five times faster, according to the Idaho Transportation Department.
Related: How to Make Your Next Car Safer
Shoot the center vents upward, says Newman. The coolair will circulate more effectively.
Throw a light-colored towel across your child’s car seat. Says Newman, “It can help keep the seat cool, and also keep the buckles from becoming hot to the touch from sunlight coming through the windows.”