Very few people realize just how cool the outside temperature can be for a child to die in a hot car. If the baby is warmly dressed, they can still die of hyperthermia at 50ºF. At 75ºF, it only takes 15 minutes for a baby to die of heat in a car. Rolling the window down doesn’t prevent car seats, upholstery, dashboards, and other interior items from heating up, making the interior environment of a car deadly to babies, young children, disabled adults, and pets.
Parking in the shade, rolling windows down, these don’t make the car cool enough to keep your child safe. Signs of heat stress and heat sickness are different in babies and small children than they are in older children or adults. Sleepiness and crankiness are their most common signs – and people often shrug those off as common behaviors, especially since many babies fall asleep in moving cars and are often cranky when awakened, not signs of dehydration, heat sickness, or impending heat stroke.
At least one baby or toddler dies in a hot car each week from April to October. Most of the parents are good parents, caring and careful, but no one really teaches parents about car safety for babies and toddlers other than the car seats. And most of the teaching about infant car seats is directly counter to what parents need to know in order to keep their babies safe all the time – rear facing infant seats set in the middle of the back seat may keep the baby safe from air bags and safer in accidents, but they contribute strongly to forgotten babies. We don’t have any way to measure how often babies are almost forgotten – or are forgotten and the parent remembers before a tragedy happens and retrieves the baby at the last minute, but those instances are probably far more common than we’d believe.
There are things parents and caretakers of babies and toddlers can do to insure the safety of those babies and toddlers. Most of them are simple and easy to learn, certainly no harder than installing childproof locks and covers, or picking up things from the floor that might harm a child.
Here’s a short list of things people caring for and transporting small children can do to keep them from dying in a hot car:
1. Always put your bags, briefcase, and anything you need for work or shopping or visiting friends on the floorboard of the back seat. That way, you’ll always have to look in the back seat and will see the sleeping baby. Always put those things there even if you don’t have a child with you because the chances are high that if you aren’t in the habit of putting your things there, you might forget when you have a child with you and then forget to check the back seat – leading to the death of the child.
2. Seat the child’s car seat behind the passenger seat. When set in the middle or behind the driver’s seat, it can’t be seen from the driver’s seat and makes it easier to forget a child is there. Most babies who die in hot cars are positioned behind the driver.
3. If you routinely travel with a small child, keep a stuffed toy in the car seat. When you put a child in the car seat, place the toy in the front seat to remind you there’s a baby back there.
4. Ask that your child’s sitter or daycare phones you promptly if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled – or develop a habit of calling them every day as soon as you get to work – even before you get out of your car – to either tell them your child is sick and won’t be in or to check that they’ve settled in.
5. Make it a habit to always open the back door of your car or to look in the back seat if it’s a 2-door car.
6. Never assume the person riding with you has taken the child out of the car seat.
7. Never assume your partner or other baby caretaker has taken the baby instead of you.
8. Put up signs and stickers to remind you about the baby – places like Kids and Cars sell static cling decals to remind you to check the car seat. These only work as long as you don’t tune them out. It’s easy to overlook something that’s always there. For some people, though, this can be the difference between a living baby and a dead baby, so give it a try.
9. They finally make monitors that will alert you when you get out of a car if there’s a baby in a car seat. There are at least two. I prefer the ChildMinder System – it sounds an alarm if you walk away from a car and leave a baby in the seat. This wakes the baby and starts it crying so you have immediate confirmation that you forgot the baby. The other one plays a lullaby, which doesn’t always wake the baby, so other people may prefer it.
10. If you do not normally take a child to day care or have a child with you when you shop – always tell someone else before you leave with said child and ask them to call you when you get to work or periodically as you are out shopping. Call the day care and tell them you instead of the usual person will be dropping the child off and if you don’t arrive, to call you in case you forgot.
As you can tell, communication is very important is preventing hot car deaths of babies.
And if you accidentally lock your keys and the baby in the car – hide a window hammer in the undercarriage to break a window (one not near the baby – the front passenger side window is the best one to break). A broken car window is so much easier to fix and so much faster – your baby has 5 minutes to live in a hot car at most. There’s no time to panic and try to flag people down to call 911 (because if you keys are in the car, your cell phone probably is, too) or for 911 to get there and unlock the door. If you have your cell phone, call 911 immediately and tell them you locked your keys and baby in the car and it’s hot and you need help ASAP. If you have to, break the damned window while you’re waiting and buy a new one.
The baby’s life is worth it.