Don’t Let Heatstroke Threaten your Kids and Pets: Tips to Prevent This Tragedy

It can happen in a flash and often, the result is tragic. Kids and pets are left in cars, intentionally and by accident, and they can die. Here are tips to help prevent heatstroke in cars.

An Image Of The Rear Seat With A Child'S Car Seat Is An Emphatic Reminder To Check The Rear Seats When You Leave The Car
An image of the rear seat with a child's car seat is an emphatic reminder to check the rear seats when you leave the car. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Don’t let this warm-weather hazard turn into painful grief.

You might remember back in the day when it was deemed fine to leave your kids in the car while you ran into the dry cleaner to pickup an order. And then, hectic days, bad decisions, sleeping kids in car seats and forgetful parents added up to tragedy: Kids – and often pets – suffering heatstroke when left in a parked car.

It’s tempting to crack the window or park in the shade and think it’ll be OK to run in to the store quickly. You think, “I’ll only be a moment.”

Don’t do it.

Car Seats Are So Easy. Photo: Jill Robbins

Leaving them unattended in the car for even a few minutes is a bad idea, especially in summer. Photo: Jill Robbins

Heatstroke can Happen Fast

Kids and pets can get heatstroke even on cool days; the interior temperature of a car rises quickly and becomes deadly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40 children per year on average die  due to heatstroke, and nearly as many pets suffer, according to PETA.

Leaving windows cracked open won’t prevent heatstroke, and passersby are urged to call 911 and report children they see left in unattended vehicles.

But awareness is growing to help solve the problem. Automakers are increasingly installing safety systems to help prevent the issue; and Safe Kids Worldwide has raised awareness about child safety, in and around cars.

Still, knowing what to do is the key to protecting kids and pets from suffering heatstroke in the car.

Car Cleaning Hacks Seat Protectors Tips To Avoid Heatstroke

Sleepy kids and over-tired parents can sometimes lead to tragedy, so be sure your routine safeguards your kids from being left in the car. Photo: Kim S.

Five Tips To Prevent Heatstroke 

  1. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle—even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
  2. Make a habit of looking in the vehicle—front and back—before locking the door and walking away; many new cars have safety reminders that will even honk the horn if you leave without retrieving something you’ve put in the rear seat
  3. Communicate with childcare providers and have a system set up to alert you and others if the child does not show up for care as expected
  4. In older cars or those without rear seat reminders, use the rear seat for storage when you have a child in the car; place something like your handbag or phone there so you’ll be reminded to take everything out of the back seat before you leave the car
  5. Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach
Child Car Seat Challenge Lincoln Corsair. Tips To Avoid Heatstroke

It’s not nosey to look into car’s windows on a hot day to see if there are kids in those seats. Scotty Reiss

What to Do As a Passerby

This might be the toughest tip of all: be nosey. If you see a parked car with a child in the rear seat, or what looks like a sleeping kid in a carseat, stop and observe. If there is no adult clearly nearby monitoring the child in the car, call 911. It can take only minutes for a child’s body to overheat because their small bodies heat up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. And even on a cool day, the car’s interior can reach 100 degrees in just minutes.

Sadly, this tragedy happens year after year, despite information, technology and attention. But with more of each, we should finally be able to eliminate needless cases of heatstroke in cars.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss