Kids in Hot Cars: Well-Meaning Parents Can Still Make Mistakes

Celia Spell
July 23, 2020
Boy wearing mask sitting in a carseat

As the heat increases, so do the reminders about the dangers that come with those rising temperatures. And while this summer looks a little different from seasons past, parents should still be mindful about leaving a child in their car unattended. Worries of COVID-19 exposure don’t lessen a child’s risk of heatstroke.

According to the National Safety Council, 800 children have died from heatstroke since 1998 after being left alone in a car as the temperatures climbed. And each year, an average of 37 children die from the same cause. But Ian Kane, an emergency medicine physician at MUSC Children’s Health, points out that while this is something that’s preventable, it’s also something that can happen to anyone. “It can happen to good people who are well-meaning and careful parents,” he said. “Being aware that it can happen to any of us can help keep children safe.”

Dr. Ian Kane 
Ian Kane, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician with MUSC Children's Health.

When a car is turned off, the temperature inside begins to steadily rise. The heat may be tolerable for an adult, but it could be deadly to a child. With a large surface area relative to their body size and a difficult time self-regulating their own temperature, children are more susceptible to these warming temperatures. They absorb heat more quickly than adults, and they aren’t able to cool themselves down as easily, which can lead to both heatstroke and organ failure.

These days, there are multiple reminder methods parents can use including apps or rear-seat weight sensors. Some other tips include putting your wallet or purse on the floor of the back seat so that you have to turn around in order to leave the car. Kane suggests a rearview mirror attachment that shows your passengers instead of your back window. Some GPS apps will also have a setting that will send a notification after the car is turned off to ask if there are any children in the backseat.

While some parents may think they can leave an older child in the car with the air conditioning on, Kane advises against it. The child may decide to drive the car while you’re gone or even just turn off the A/C without realizing it, or someone might try to steal the car with the child in it.

Cars can also be dangerous even when they’re not on. Kids might choose to climb in the car when playing a game and get locked in, so Kane suggests leaving the car locked when it’s not in use, even if it’s safely in the garage.

Vehicular heatstroke in children is preventable and rare, but it’s also something that could happen to anyone. With awareness and a few lifestyle changes, it can be avoided. Summer is a time to enjoy the outdoors. It is a not time to be in a car with rising temperatures.

About the Author

Celia Spell
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Keywords: Childrens Health, Kids