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7 Tips to Save a Child from Dying in a Hot Car

I read today that more than 500 children have died in hot cars since 2008. As much as you and I want to respond, “That could never happen to me!” It could. In most cases it happens when a parent is sleep deprived (do you know many parents who aren’t?) or under stress or have had a change in routine. And they simply, horribly, tragically forget.

baby in rear facing car seat - safety tips

So what can we do about it? Let me share a few ideas. I don’t care how certain you are it couldn’t happen to you; isn’t it worth taking a few extra steps to be sure? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has an excellent list of tips. I’m just going to highlight a couple here, but please visit their site and read them all.

Child Safety Tips – Hot Cars

  • Call 911 immediately if you see a child alone in a car. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible.
  • Never EVER leave a child alone in a car – not even for a minute, not even if the windows are down.
  • Put something in the back seat that you will need when you arrive at your destination, e.g. a cell phone, purse or briefcase… something to force you to see your child.
  • If you’ve had a change of routine, set a reminder on your cell phone to be sure that you drop your child at daycare.
  • Ask your childcare provider to call if your child ever does not arrive when expected.
  • Keep a teddy bear or toy in the front passenger seat any time a child is riding in the back to remind yourself.
  • When parked at home lock car doors and always keep keys out of reach of young children. Teach children not to play in or around cars.
  • If a child is missing, check the car and truck first.

Sure it sounds like a lot of extra work for a tired parent, but don’t you think those hundreds of parents who lost their kids in this horribly tragic way would give anything, do anything to go back and change it. Please, it really can happen to anyone. Take the steps to be sure it’s not your sweet child we hear about on the evening news.

Please share this with other parents!

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  1. Mitzi

    Very good advice indeed! I especially loved the one where you suggest putting something in the back seat with the child that you will need so that you will see the child when you go to get it out. We all know that children have a habit of falling asleep in the car and that silence alone can contribute to an already exhausted parent forgetting they are back there.

    All are excellent guides to help parents remember and teaching children not to play in or around cars is always a good lesson for the child. In today’s world, with kidnapping and worse all around, I never let even my older grand children out of my sight. It’s just not safe out there and it’s up to us to do our best to keep them safe.

    Great post! Great job! Hugs to you all! ~M

    1. Michael Schmid

      We all know that children have a habit of falling asleep in the car and that silence alone can contribute to an already exhausted parent forgetting they are back there.

      When I first tweeted this post this morning I had someone respond, “Well, never leave a kid in a car.”

      That’s NOT the point. The majority of these tragic deaths are not because someone did it intentionally. They are not because they are bad parents or don’t love their child. It’s a horrible, tragic mistake. A mistake they will never get over, but there is something you can do.

      After seeing the stats on the number of deaths, I searched for tips and found those at the NHTSA and included a few above. I couldn’t NOT post this blog. I just hope parents take it seriously, and don’t think “it could never happen to me!” They are wrong. Thanks, Mitzi.

  2. Merry120

    Great post! I worry that this could happen to me or someone I know. It is so awful but when we’re as stressed & as sleep deprived as we all are, you can see that it’s not too far of a stretch. Thankfully we have a nanny so Evan is rarely in the car with me unless we are going somewhere specific together. Regardless, though, it’s something to keep in the front of our minds!

    1. Michael Schmid

      Hi, Merry. Actually it’s the fact that Evan is rarely in the car with you (the change in routine) that is one of the factors that increases the risk. Say one parent usually drops a child at daycare, but one day they switch for some reason. And the exhausted parent with the child in the back seat drives to work on autopilot totally forgetting the sleeping child is with him/her. I hope all of us keep this in the front of our minds as you say. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Merry!

  3. Margaret

    I am quite forgetful myself so I have used the teddy bear tip (well, any toy I could find in the car) which I kept in the front seat right next to my purse so I’d always remember my baby was in the back. It really works, even for absent minded people like me.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I’m so happy to hear you’ve used the technique and it works for you, Margaret. I thought it was a great idea when I read it. I also like the idea of putting something you’ll need at your destination in the back seat so you’ll go back there and see the child. One I didn’t include, but we used, was for REAR FACING baby car seats is a mirror that you can attached to the back seat… so you can see the baby in your rear-view mirror. That serves multiple purposes, of course, but could help in this circumstance as well.

  4. JDaniel4's Mom

    I keep thing on the floor beneath JDaniel’s seat.

    Wonderful post!

    1. Michael Schmid

      Makes a lot of sense, D. That way you’re forced to go back there and see him.

  5. Mary

    Sad, but it can happen. I’ve heard otherwise normal, responsible adults tell stories about how they almost left a child alone in a car without thinking…distracted, tired, changes in routine. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Michael Schmid

      You are welcome, Mary. When I read the stat’s and realized it truly could happen to me, to you, to anyone… I couldn’t not post something. I hope others will implement and share the tips. Have a great week!

  6. Dean Mehrkens

    Good, timely article.

    I’ve gotten in the habit of doing a headcount whenever we arrive somewhere (before getting out of the van), once everyone is out of the vehicle, and again when it’s time to leave. This has prevented many occasions of kids being left in the car, especially when the family pranksters think it’s funny to hide from mom and dad. Just doing the headcount has become as much a habit as checking the rear view mirror before backing up. I even find myself doing it when driving alone, just out of habit.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Getting into good habits like that make a big difference, Dean. That’s great. And you’re right about kids playing hide and seek. My little girl does it all the time. Horrible to think something so fun and innocent could have such a tragic end. Thanks for weighing in.

  7. Sarah

    This is really helpful. And I think you did a great service to the people who’ve lost their children in this way by REPEATEDLY saying that it’s not BAD parents that make this error… it’s tired ones. That’s really what’s true. We’d all love to say that we “would never ________” but, it’s amazing how quickly being exhausted can shut our parent brains down!

    I’m passing this on.

    1. Michael Schmid

      There’s nothing I can say that will make parents who have made such a tragic mistake feel worse than they are feeling themselves. Life after something like that must be like a living hell. It could happen to any of us, but there are steps (such as those listed above and on the linked website) that can help at least reduce the odds. And isn’t worth every effort? Thanks for sharing this, Sarah. By reaching more parents perhaps a child could be saved.

  8. Shannon

    Such an important topic- especially now in the summer. Thanks for the timely reminder.

    1. Michael Schmid

      You’re welcome, Shannon. You’re right about the summer heat, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention for the benefit of my many friends and family from colder climates… hypothermia during cold months can kill just the same. We can never let our guard down.

  9. Katherines Corner

    Well done and important topic to address. I enjoyed my visit to your blog. I look forward to many more. Wishing you a happy Sunday. Hugs

    1. Michael Schmid

      A very happy Sunday right back at you, Katherine. I look forward to perusing your “corner” of the web. :)

  10. anne

    we did lose a baby in our family this way. it was devastating. our son loved his baby more than life itself. it happened on a day when the households schedule was upside down. he was taking the baby to daycare and he forgot he had his son with him and went to work. i can still hear the parents screams of horror and disbelief. thankfully after months of coping with their own grief they finally could start helping each other. we are down the road now, but not a day goes by that we don’t miss our little girl. most people don’t think that it could happen to them, but believe me, it can and does. people are very supportive to our family, but believe me, our son will never forget, forgive or trust himself again.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I am so terribly sorry for your family’s loss. I feel deeply for your son, and hope he heals some with more time. And for all those people that think it can’t happen to them I hope they read your comment and realize it’s not bad or unloving parents to whom this tragedy most often happens. *hugs*

  11. Steve

    Not for nothing but if I see a kid in a car when it’s 90-100 degrees out like this week I’m calling 911 after I put my foot through a window and get the kid to safety. They had WWYD (what would you do) recreate basically this same situation and while some people stopped and called 911 only 1 person actually had the balls to start pounding the car to get the kid out.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Hey, if it was my child (which I certainly never plan for it to be, but as discussed tragic mistakes happen) you have my permission to do whatever you need to to get her out. Yell for someone else to call 911.

  12. Daddy by Default

    I’m always surprised when I hear about kids dying in hot cars. I don’t understand the people who leave kids in hot cars. I just don’t get it.

    1. Michael Schmid

      It’s hard to understand how one could do it on purpose. In many cases, they are tired, rushed, their routine has changed, and they literally forget the child is even there. So heartbreaking.

  13. Crystal & Co

    Excellent tips. In the summer time, I must take a roll call in the car and out of the car 150 times. So scary!

    Sharing on Facebook!

    1. Michael Schmid

      It so easy to think it couldn’t happen to you, but it can. Yes, in Texas summers here in Dallas it’s so hot a few minutes could be really dangerous. I’m happy you take it so seriously.

  14. Health Information

    Excellent Tips! Never leave your child alone in the car or anywhere. Keep an eye in every action they take.

    1. Michael Schmid

      No kidding. You should see how hard I hold her hand in a crowded parking lot. There are times we need to ‘let go’ and not be over-protective, but these are not them.

  15. Lou Herrera

    I just hope parents take it seriously, and don’t think “it could never happen to me!” They are wrong. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing a headcount whenever we arrive somewhere (before getting out of the van), once everyone is out of the vehicle, and again when it’s time to leave.

    1. Michael Schmid

      That’s a super practice, Lou. Once you’ve made it a habit it won’t seem strange, and may save a life.

  16. OneMommy

    When mine were babies I ALWAYS had my bag in the back seat.
    Now that mine are older I need to reinforce the “do not play in the car” rule.

    1. Michael Schmid

      That’s a great tip! One need simply to get into that habit… it makes you always go into the backseat when leaving the car. Thanks for sharing it. The stories you hear of this kind of tragic mistake are just heart wrenching. Good point about teaching children to not play in the car.

      It’s interesting, I’ve been reading our daughter C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and he makes pains (at least three times) to say NEVER close yourself into a wardrobe. I love how he was, in his small way trying to warn children of his day of this danger. That’s why I wrote this post.

      I saw you retweeted this. Thank you.

  17. Abigail Williams

    This is a wonderful post. People should know and be aware of what might happen if you leave your child in a car. They should always take precautions so that it would not happen to their children. We should be responsible enough in all our actions.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thank you so much, Abigail. A mistake of this sort is so horribly tragic. And if they do it knowingly, then it’s criminal. Not sure it isn’t criminal no matter what?

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