Children Left Alone in Cars Increases at Alarming Rates

Pregnancyorg Staff's picture

by Cassandra R. Elias

In the Spotlight: Parents Leaving Child in Cars -- Preventive Devices Ineffective

Car SafetyIt's not hard to imagine this as a common scenario. The baby finally fell asleep in her car seat. Mom or dad just needs to run into the store for "a minute." A minute turns into 20. That’s all it took for their baby to die of heatstroke. Hard to believe this can happen? Believe it! Three children died last week in this same scenario.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), heat stroke or hyperthermia is the leading cause of non-crash vehicular deaths in children under the age of 14.

Since 1998, 527 kids have died from heat stroke after being left in a hot vehicle. That's an average of 38 each year.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release last week, "With summer temperatures hitting record highs around the country, child heatstroke is clearly an issue of national concern."

In many of these instances, the parent actually forgot that their baby was in the car. Perhaps they were operating outside their usual routine but for whatever reason, the best of parents have been known to forget!

To combat this problem, devices have been on the market to alert parents or caregivers that a child has accidentally been left behind in a hot car. However, they have been found to be inconsistent and unreliable according to the NHTSA.

They reviewed 18 products that promise to alert parents and caregivers that a child has been left behind. They included a ChildMinder Smart PadSystem, Toddler Wristband Safe "N" Secure Alarm System, SafeBabi and more.

They found inconsistencies in arming sensitivity, kids accidentally disarming the device, liquid like juice getting spilled on it, and complicated set-up as affecting the effectiveness of the devices. They are also not restraint based so they don't address the 20 to 40 percent of kids who enter hot cars without parental knowledge.

According to the injury prevention child advocacy group, Safe Kids Worldwide, leaving a child in even a 72 degree car can be fatal, because temperatures can rise more than 20 degrees in less than 10 minutes, the time it takes to run an errand.

The NHTSA urges parents to ask themselves, "Where's baby? Look before you lock," as part of its national campaign to address the issue. They also say parents should do the following:

• 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.

• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and leaving.

• Ask the childcare provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected.

• Place a cell phone, purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle. Writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver's view are also tips for parents to indicate a child is in the car seat.

• Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child's reach.

Being animal lovers, we would like to add that these rules also apply to pets! Our furry family members should not be left in a hot car, either.

Do you have any other tips? Please share them with our readers!

Photo courtesy


MissyJ's picture

Submitted by MissyJ on

Please share this article with as many as possible. It is true, that there are cases where perhaps the intent is malicious or self-serving (leaving the child locked in a car to go in a bar)... but other families find that their lives are ripped by this as a tragic ACCIDENT. The families love their children dearly... some have had siblings that not only lose their brother or sister -- but also often mom and dad to their grief (if not to jail.)

Reading recent cases, I've seen the parents vilified. OF COURSE this should NEVER happen! I, too, am horrified at the thought of leaving one of my own in the car. My children laugh and tease me as I do my "kid count" as we enter and exit the car... running through where ALL my children are -- even those not traveling with me at the time. But, I recognize "there but for the grace of God, go I." If this, at times, annoys my kids (or my dh makes fun), it is a "sacrifice" I'm willing to make.

We are all creatures of habit. I know as life seems to grow ever more hectic, we are pulled in 20 different directions at any given moment. Often we drive home (or to work, practice, etc.) on auto-pilot as we are working out what's for dinner, what chores lie ahead, who needs to be where" and more. Add into the mix the constant interference of "technology" -- computers, cell phones, texting, Facebook, etc. -- and we enter information overload. We must find a way to slow down, unplug, and instead plug IN -- to our most precious treasures... our family.

Whatever trick you need to personally employ to implement your own "kid count" before getting out and locking your vehicle... do so. If putting your purse / wallet or cell phone back with your child(ren) helps -- DO IT! (For those that mock... NO that does NOT mean a parent values their child more than their purse/cell! It means that they care about their child enough to do whatever it takes to try and keep them safe!)