This is a hard topic to discuss. In 2018, 52 children died across the U.S. because parents or caregivers left them in vehicles. It's a heartbreaking epidemic, but you can prevent it.

Research has shown that the temperature in a car can increase 20 to 40 degrees in less than 30 minutes and that most of that heat increase occurs in the first 10 minutes. For example, if it’s 70 degrees outside and your car is in the parking lot the temperature inside will increase to about 89 degrees in 10 minutes and to 104 degrees in about 30 minutes. Cracking the windows only decreases the temperature by 1 or 2 degrees.

Children are even more at risk for damages caused by extreme heat because their little bodies absorb heat more quickly and have trouble cooling off. Sweating won't cool down an infant or young child in the same way that it does an adult. Also, a child may not be able to extract himself from a car seat or take off his or her clothes to help their body adjust.

Parents of younger children should also keep in mind that they can easily fall asleep in the car and may not make a peep. This can contribute to parents forgetting a baby is in the backseat in the first place.

The Injury Prevention Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital has some statistics on how children die as a result of being left unattended in a vehicle. 88% of children who die in hot cars are under age 3, with 54% being under age 1. Approximately 56% of these children were forgotten, and 27% accessed the vehicle on their own. Of the 56% who were forgotten, almost half of them should have been at daycare. 

Research has shown that a change in routine often plays a part in the tragedies that involve caregivers forgetting a child. Even a small change in routine can cause us to lose focus and overlook essential responsibilities. It can happen to anyone without preventive measures in place.

Follow this simple acronym (A.C.T.) to prevent heat-related death this summer:

    A - Avoid this event by never leaving a child alone in a vehicle for any amount of time. Take your child with you each time you exit your vehicle. This includes running into the gas station for a soda, making a deposit at the bank or picking up a few things at the store. When the vehicle is unattended, lock the doors so that children cannot enter.

    C - Create reminders. Place a purse, briefcase or phone near the child's car seat to ensure that you will look before leaving your vehicle. Parents or grandparents can also place a stuffed animal in the child's car seat when it is not in use and place the stuffed animal in the passenger seat when the child is riding with them. This will remind adults to check for the child. Be sure of a child's location at all times, and ask the daycare or caregivers to call you within 10 minutes of drop-off time if the child is absent.

    T - Take action if you see a child left in a vehicle. Call 911 immediately, and if possible, rescue the child from the car after receiving emergency instructions.

Also, make sure children can't get into parked cars in driveways or garages. 

  • When the car is in the garage or driveway always keep it locked, ask neighbors and visitors to do the same thing
  • Keep keys out of reach of children. They imitate us, and with today’s key fobs, it’s easy for a toddler to unlock a car door.
  • Teach children to honk if stuck in the car.
  • If a child is missing, check floorboards, trunk and under seats.

It can also be helpful to know the symptoms of heatstroke in children: dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizures, hot skin that is flushed and not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat and hallucinations.

The ACH Injury Prevention Center developed a book called "Not for a Minute," to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of hot cars. Staff is working with daycares around the state to provide education for families and to institute a call back program for children who don’t show for daycare. Call the IPC at 501-364-3400 for a free copy of the book or to find out how you can bring this program to your daycare.

For more information about kids and cars, visit the Injury Prevention Center website. For more tips on injury prevention, subscribe to our blog.