It’s an all-too-common tragic hot weather story: a baby or young child found dead in a sweltering car after a parent leaves them behind.
Public condemnation is often swift, and nearly all parents swear they’d never forget to drop off their own children with a sitter, grandparent or at day care before heading to work or out on errands.
“This can and does happen to the most loving, responsible and attentive parents; no one is immune,” says Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, an advocacy organization promoting safety for children in and around motor vehicles.
So what’s a parent to do? Here are some tips from national safety experts:
- Place something in the back seat — a purse, briefcase, a cell phone, your left shoe — that you would retrieve before leaving the car to be reminded of your child’s presence.
- Create a check-in system with your child’s other parent, caregiver, sitter or daycare center to ensure that the child arrives safely at their destination. Parents can text each other after drop-off or pickup, and some daycare facilities will contact parents if children haven’t been dropped off at their regularly scheduled time.
- Always keep your car locked when you aren’t in it so kids can’t gain access. Some hot car deaths result from children entering unlocked cars during play and finding themselves unable to escape after shutting the door behind them.
- Leave trunks closed and locked so children don’t become trapped during play.
- If you see a child alone in a car, call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Most importantly, never leave your child alone in a hot car, even “just for a minute” to run inside the house or make a quick stop at a convenience store. A car can heat up 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. That puts children at risk almost instantly for brain damage and death from heatstroke.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2018, and updated in July 2020.