Even the best parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping baby in a car, or deliberately leave a child to do some quick errands.
Either way, the result can be injury or even death.
Here are tips for avoiding heat-related deaths of children in cars, both what you can do and what auto manufacturers are doing.
Heat-related deaths are in the headlines again with the tragic, heartbreaking news of twin toddlers forgotten in the backseat by their father, who left them in the backseat while he went to work. Apparently, he did not remember that he did not drop them off at daycare.
An Iraq war veteran and respected social worker at a Veterans Administration hospital in New York City, apparently he was on autopilot.
Anybody who has ever gotten into a vehicle parked in the sun knows how how it is inside.
We open the windows or start the air-conditioner to cool it off before we drive away.
40-50 Degrees Hotter Inside the Car
A child strapped into a car seat in the back seat cannot do that, and will suffer temperatures that can be 40-50 degrees hotter than outside the locked vehicle.
That means it can be 125% inside when it’s only 80% outside.
According to the safety group Kids and Cars, 80% of that temperature increase is the first ten minutes, so leaving a child locked in a car just for the ten minutes it takes to pick up your dry cleaning or your prescription is enough to injure, even kill, a young child.
While some of us may think it is not possible to forget a child, it happens, and more often than we think.
Even the most caring, loving, responsible parent can make this deadly mistake, especially when it is a routine trip, like going to work.
Instead of debating the reasons the brain can fool us into forgetting or misremembering, here are some easy ways to remember a child in the back seat:
Leave Something Valuable in the Back Seat
Leave something valuable in the back seat – besides your child or children.
That will force you to open the back doors before you lock the car. It’s as simple as that.
- Women – leave your handbag.
- Men – leave your briefcase or backpack.
Some so-called experts have been recommending that you leave your mobile phone in the passenger compartment. I don’t.
Even if your vehicle has voice-activated everything, and even if there is a USB connection in the front console for your phone and your cord is long enough to drop it behind you, the same “brain freeze” that could let you forget a child in the back seat could prompt you to reel in the phone without noticing the child.
Dangers of Rear-Facing Child Seats
Rear‐facing car seats are safest for the youngest children, but the most dangerous for the adult driving them, since they look the same whether there is a baby in it or not.
Children, especially babies, often fall asleep in their rear‐facing child safety seats, becoming quiet, unobtrusive little passengers.
See this article in Consumer Reports for more car seat safety tips.
Vehicles with Back Seat Warnings
Car-makers are developing back-seat reminders which will warn us when something is left behind when we lock the car. Several already are on the road:
Honda offers a new Rear Seat Reminder system as standard in the 2021 Odyssey minivan. The system can be integrated with the available CabinWatch® child viewing system, an industry first.
GM offers rear seat reminders on several brands and models, including as standard equipment.
GMC: Rear seat reminder is included in the Terrain, Acadia and Yukon, as well as two trucks, the Canyon and Sierra.
Buick and Cadillac: It is also standard in the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac Escalade, as well as the Chevrolet Equinox, Colorado, Suburban, Tahoe and Malibu.
Nissan: Offers a rear seat reminder on the Pathfinder and has plans to include the feature in other models.
Hyundai announced it will make rear seat warnings standard by 2022.
Congress is debating hot cars legislation which would require the technology by 2025.
In the meantime, always check the back seat before you lock the car. Always.
This article was published in 2019 and updated for 2020.