Danger In the Backseat: What You Need to Know about Small Kids and Hot Cars

Danger In the Backseat: What You Need to Know about Small Kids and Hot Cars

It happens every year. A mom is in a rush to get to an important interview. There's a million thoughts jumbled in her head as she hops out of the car forgetting that her child is asleep in the backseat. She rushes into the building without looking back, eager to get inside and get the interview underway. Her husband's company has been downsizing and things are starting to get tight. Her oldest daughter needs braces and her car is on its last leg.

Hours later, she exits the building. Things are looking good and she can't wait to tell her husband. As soon as she enters the parking lot she notices the firetrucks and police cars. They seem to be surrounding her car. "That's odd," she thinks, walking towards her vehicle. As she gets closer she notices the tiny stretcher. Her breathing falters and her hands begin to shake. Her briefcase falls to the ground with a hollow thud. She begins screaming.

You think it can never happen to you. After all, you're a super parent. Other parents both fear and envy the way you seamlessly breeze through one crisis after another. You could never be that careless. Until you are. The simple fact is, it can happen to you. It could happen to me. It can happen to anyone. Since 1998, 619 children have died from heatstroke after being left in hot vehicles. 73% of those deaths have been children under the age of 2 (source). Sadly, those number continue to grow daily.

Even on a mildly hot day, the inside of your car can overheat quickly.  According to Dr. Christoper Haines, DO, Director Of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, "On a day that is just 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature [inside a car] can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70% of this increase occurs the first 30 minutes”  (source). It can take as little as 15 minutes in hot vehicle for a child to suffer irreversible brain and or kidney damage.

It's so easy to point the finger of blame and judgement. After all, how could a parent leave the person they love most in the world, to die alone? That sad fact is that in all 619 cases, the parents were devastated. They are asking themselves the very same questions we are. But instead of moving on with their lives and forgetting about the tragedy, they are forced to relive that day over and over and over again.

So, what can you do?

Always place your purse or briefcase in the backseat 
Doing this forces you to look in the backseat before exiting your vehicle. I can't tell you how many times my own daughter has fallen asleep and I've forgotten that she's in the backseat. Since she was a baby, I have always made it a habit to always, always, always look at the backseat before getting out. I can't imagine how devastating it is as a parent to realize that simply looking back before they got out of the car could have saved their child's life.

Don't be afraid to check up on each other
So many of these tragic cases are the result of parents simply going on auto-pilot and forgetting to drop their children off at daycare. If you're deviating from your typical routine or schedule, don't be afraid to call your significant other and check up on them. It may be annoying, but consider the alternative...

Write yourself a note or hang a sign
Again, many of these tragedies are the result of parents switching their schedules and simply forgetting. If you are breaking your routine, or have a lot on your mind. Write yourself a small reminder. Better still, purchase a sign to help you remember. It may seem silly, but once again, consider the alternative...

What can others do?

Stop judging and start helping
It's so easy to say what you would or wouldn't have done in situations like these. Instead of judging, realize that this can happen to anyone. If you see one of your friends or family members struggling, offer assistance. Offer to drop their children off at daycare. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child.

Call 911 Immediately
If you happen to notice an infant or toddler alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. Follow the advice of the dispatcher. Don't be afraid to break a window if you have to. And please don't walk away.

On a more personal note: my thoughts and prayers are with the Harris family in their time of mourning. No matter what your opinion of this father may be, we can all agree that he is truly living every parents worst nightmare.

Image Credit: Emily


  1. You are so right, it so easy to judge. My mom left me in the car one time and thought it was going to be just a couple of minutes, and someone came in the bank and shouted "Someone left their child in the car and she is screaming!". My mom dashed out of there so fast. She said she cried and felt awful. But I know she is a great mom that made a mistake. I also been a similar situation where it was storming so bad, and my husband was deployed, but I needed to get one of the kids' medicine from Walmart (which was literally 2 minutes away). So I had to make a hard decision put them in the car amidst a storm or leave them home. I told 5 year old Cameron to go in the room with his brother and keep the door closed and don't come out until I get back. Cameron is great at following rules, but I didn't make a habit of it and I also thought of what could happen. but I didn't want them in the storm either. It is just hard being a parent period.

    1. Yes. Just yes to ALL of what you said. Sometimes you are truly placed in an impossible predicament. The best you can do is just go with your instincts. We do the best we can with what we have. That's my motto!


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