Summer is here and temperatures are rising. Everyone knows not to leave their child in the car on a hot day, but you should NEVER leave your baby/toddler/child alone in the car ever. Even on a warm, but not hot, day it is dangerous. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s. Even with the windows rolled down, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 125 degrees fahrenheit in only minutes. Leaving the windows open does not slow the heating process or help the car to be cooler.
I know it is tempting to leave your child in the car while you run into the store for just one item. I know it is hard to wake up the child who is sleeping in their car seat, when all you need is to run into the bank for just a minute. Especially if that child never naps, or hasn’t been sleeping well, or will only sleep in the car. I know it is hard when your young child would rather stay in the car to play a game, and throws a fit when you tell them to go inside with you. I know how easy it is to give in and let your child stay in the car, let them play and be happy, let them sleep, let them stay so it takes you less time inside. In all of these circumstances, the best thing you can do for your child is to wake them up and take them with you, make them come with you, let them throw their fit. You should never, ever leave your child in the car alone. There should be no exceptions. A child should NEVER be left in a car alone, no matter how briefly. I know I always take longer in the store than I think I would. Do not leave your child in the car while you run into the store, even if they are asleep.
The parents who leave their children in the car are often very good parents otherwise. They often dote on their children and wish no harm on their child. But even good parents make mistakes. Leaving your child in the car is most definitely a mistake. In many cases, it is the biggest mistake of that parents life.
When I am tempted to leave my sweet child in the car, I stop and think. I think, “If something happened to my baby, would it be worth the 5 minutes I saved by not taking her out of the car and bringing her with me? Would it be worth her getting an extra few minutes to nap? Would it be worth skipping a tantrum because she doesn’t want to come in the store?” Inevitably, the answer is NO! It is NOT worth it. Maybe you are thinking, “I have left my child in the car by themselves many times! Nothing bad has happened!” If so, you are very lucky. Maybe in your circumstances, nine times out of ten, nothing will happen. But on that tenth time, when something does happen, is it worth it??? I know I personally try to do everything I can to keep my baby safe. Leaving her in the car alone, while I may have good motives, would definitely not be keeping her safe.
“There is no safe amount of time to leave children alone in the car,” says Nathan Allen, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at the University of Chicago. “Kids are more susceptible and at higher risk for heat-related illness and injury than adults because their bodies make more heat relative to their size and their abilities to cool through sweating are not as developed as adults.”
Just a few minutes can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, for a child. You never know what can go wrong.
“Parents leave children in a car for lack of understanding about how sick they can get and how quickly they can get sick,” says Christopher Haines, DO, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.
Vehicles can reach life threatening temperatures very quickly.
- Total number of U.S. pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths, 2018: 7
- Total number of U.S. pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths, 2017: 42
- Total number of U.S. pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths, 1998-present: 749
- Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 37
An examination of media reports about the 700 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths for a 19-year period (1998 through 2017) shows the following circumstances:
- 54% – child “forgotten” by caregiver (400 Children)
- 27% – child playing in unattended vehicle (200)
- 18% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (137)
- 1% – circumstances unknown (5)
The children that have died from vehicular heatstroke in the United States (1998-October 2016) have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age. Below are the percentage of total (695) deaths (and the number of deaths).
- < 1-year old = 32% (225)
- 1-year old = 22% (154)
- 2-years old = 20% (136)
- 3-years old = 13% (92)
- 4-years old = 6% (42)
- 5-years old = 3% (23)
- 6-years old = 1% (9)
- 7-years old = < 1% (3)
- 8-years old = < 1% (3)
- 9-years old = < 1% (2)
- 10-years old = < 1% (3)
- 11-years old = < 1% (2)
- 12-years old = < 1% (1)
- 13-years old = < 1% (1)
- 14-years old = < 1% (3)
- Unknown = < 1% (1)
What should you do if you see a child alone in a car? CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY! Yell, scream, shout! Bring as many people to that car as you can. You never know who might be a trained medical professional. Break a window! Save that child! So many people are afraid of breaking a car window when they see a child left alone in the car. Yes, it is wrong to damage someones property. But in this case, it is necessary! I am sure that parent would be happier to have a broken window than a dead or severely injured child.