Why you should never leave your kids in the car—especially in the summer

Here’s a horrifically depressing statistic: Since 1990, more than 800 children have died after being left in a hot car. But these tragic incidents don’t always come from neglect or cruelty—sometimes they really are an accident or a misjudgment.

Children are at a special risk for heatstroke in cars because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s, so even just a quick trip into Walgreens can have devastating results. Here’s what you need to know to keep your kids safe.

Heat Wave Grips New York
Getty Images | Chris Hondros

1. It doesn’t have to be hot.

Most of us know that it’s a terrible idea to leave your child in the car on a 90-degree day, but kids have suffered heatstroke in cars on days when the temperature has been as low as 60 degrees, according to KidsAndCars.org. And even on milder days in a car with the windows cracked, the temperature inside the car can skyrocket to 125 degrees in minutes. A child dies when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2. Remember to A-C-T

The Safe Kids Worldwide organization recommends the “A-C-T” approach to preventing heatstrokes in children during the summer. This simple pneumonic device can help you—or someone else—avoid a life-threatening situation.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.  

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine. 

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

3. Look before you lock.

With toddlers and older kids, it’s crucial that you make sure all the doors are locked if your car stays in the garage or the driveway. You don’t want anyone climbing into a hot car to play and getting stuck in there.

In that same vein, before you leave your car in a parking lot or elsewhere, make a habit of looking into the backseat before you walk away. Safercar.gov recommends putting a stuffed animal or visual cue in your child’s carseat when it’s empty and moving it into the front seat when your child is buckled in. This will help keep you alert on days when you’re exhausted or your routine has changed significantly, which can throw you off.


4. Bring your kids with you.

When in doubt, make the decision to take your kids with you wherever you are going. Even if you think a trip into a store will be lightning-fast, any kind of unforeseen event could end up delaying you. Eighty percent of the temperature increase inside a car happens in the first 10 minutes. It gets hot in there—and fast. Better to be safe and bring your kids inside with you.

car seat kid photo
Flickr | Ryan Dickey