Summer Safety Tip: Hot Car Dangers

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Summer is in full swing, and as usual life is crazy!  Parents of small children:  does your summer mean wacky schedule changes for your family due to vacations, doctor visits, summer camp, etc.?  If so, you may want to make note of this particular summer-time danger:  little kids left in hot cars.

Sadly, I could link to quite a number of articles and news reports discussing this deadly phenomenon.  But I will leave you to do the research on your own if you want the stories; they are absolutely heartbreaking.  What happens is something like this:  a well-meaning parent goes on “auto-pilot” and drives straight to work, instead of to the daycare or other destination for the child, while the baby or toddler falls asleep in the carseat.  Due to the quiet, the parent parks the car and goes in to work for the day, forgetting about the morning drop-off and the dozing child altogether.  The temperature inside a car parked in the summer heat, even for only 5-10 minutes, and even with the windows cracked, can quickly rise to dangerous levels, with disastrous results.

See below for one easy way to remember your precious cargo!

There are those who would say this would never happen to them, and label as irresponsible those parents who unintentionally leave their children in hot cars.  There have even been criminal prosecutions arising from these cases.  When I first heard of these stories, I was moved with compassion for these parents, who had obviously made a horrifying mistake, and then had to face judgment from the rest of society for it.  I shuddered when I realized just how easy it could be for any of us to let a hectic morning turn into this kind of tragedy.  On crazy days, when parents make changes in the usual drop-off routine, are distracted by a stressful meeting or other obligation, or simply miscommunicate with their partners over who has the kids, it is not difficult to understand how someone could park and leave the car without realizing that a child is sleeping quietly in the back seat.  In my opinion, the criminal prosecution is completely inappropriate, because the parents are already being punished by the loss of their child.  Clearly a jail sentence or other penalty would not serve as a deterrent, because no one does this on purpose, and no parent thinks it will happen to their child.  Instead, the way to prevent child deaths from hot cars is through raising awareness of this danger.

One of my favorite tips for remembering that there is a child riding in the backseat is to get in the habit of leaving a stuffed animal in the carseat whenever it is empty.  When you buckle in your child, move the stuffed animal to the passenger side in the front with you.  That way, when you glance down at the seat, you will notice the toy there and remember that it was displaced by your child!  Another strategy is to leave something you need to take with you to work – like a briefcase, a file, or your handbag – in the backseat, so that when you look for it you will remember that your child is there.

Summer should be fun, so let’s not dwell too long on hot cars and other summer-specific dangers (swimming accidents also come to mind), but we should be mindful that these dangers exist and take precautions to minimize them.  Do you have any summer safety tips?  Share them here!

2 comments on “Summer Safety Tip: Hot Car Dangers”

  1. This scares me, especially since we do extended rear-facing of the car seat (I can’t look in my rear view and see if the car seat is occupied). We each have a mirror in our car so that we CAN see the car seat, and if we deviate from the usual routine of my husband dropping off at daycare and me picking up, we text each other to confirm that she has indeed been dropped off.

    I tried keeping a stuffed animal in the car seat but with tinted windows it’s hard to see clearly into our backseat and I feared that a passerby would see the shape in the car sat and think it was a child. She’s pretty vocal in the car now but what I do is put my purse next to her car seat even if she’s not in the car. That forces me to go into the back seat every time I park, as an extra check.

  2. I actually had something happen to me recently that sort of reminds me of this. I was on autopilot one morning after a sleepless night, my 10 year old had missed the bus and I was driving him to school to drop off right around the corner from my new office. As I pulled into my office parking lot his little voice chirped up from the back seat, “hey, why are you taking me to work?” I was horrified thinking that if he hadn’t said something, had he been small, not talking, or fallen asleep, how badly it could have ended. It shook me all day, and I couldn’t help but think of parents with small children and how you think that could never happen, and how easily it could.

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