You’re in the Driver’s Seat: Don’t Leave Kids or Pets in Hot Cars

portrait of mother and little daughter driving in car togetherIf you’re rushing around as the family’s “taxi driver” between activities, appointments, and errands, you might just be taking precious cargo for granted. Don’t: In 2018 (the deadliest year on record in the past 20 years, according to the National Safety Council [NSC]), 52 children in the U.S. died when left in a locked, hot car. Pediatric vehicular heatstroke or PVH (also known as hyperthermia) was the cause of almost 800 kids dying since 1998.

From “running” into the bank, to picking up “just few things” at the grocery store, leaving a child (or a pet) in a hot car can turn life-threatening in minutes. It doesn’t help if a window is “cracked” open. Even on a cloudy day, or with outside temperatures as low as 57 degrees, a locked car is a death trap for small passengers who have no way to get out. At the same time, an unattended, unlocked vehicle makes it too easy for a child to gain entry, and get stuck, while playing with buttons and windows (or maybe even setting wheels in motion). An NSC report says that as many as 27 percent of children gained entry to a vehicle on their own.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that the body temperature of a child can rise three to five times faster than that of an adult. A child’s major organs start shutting down when their body temperature reaches 104 degrees. At a body temperature of 107 degrees, that child can die. The temperature inside of a car can increase by almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. Don’t put them in harm’s way in the first place.

Many are calling for stronger protective laws. Better “warning” gadgets in cars include alarm alerts, plus dashboard displays, that prompt drivers to check the backseat for remaining passengers. Here’s what you can do right now to keep kids and pets safe:

  • Focus on safety, not on “multi-tasking.” Be mindful of your passengers — not just the errands on your list. Get enough rest, stay alert, and resist distractions.
  • Never leave a child or pet unattended in a locked car.
  • Never allow kids to have access to an unlocked car. They could get in and become trapped.
  • Teach kids that cars aren’t playgrounds. They should only be in there if you’re in there with them.
  • Look before you lock! Leave an item in the back seat (like a stuffed animal) that will remind you to check that area before you leave the car.
  • Don’t forget sleeping babies! They often make no sound, and are the most common heatstroke victims.
  • If you see a child locked in a car, call 9-1-1! Note the car’s make, model, and license plate. Try to get the child out. If you do, as with over-heated pets, provide cool, not cold water. Stay until help arrives. Have someone else look for the driver. (With a panting cat or dog trapped in a car, you may be able to legally remove them if they’re in distress, but check your state’s laws first.) Call local police or animal control. Get the pet to a vet ASAP!

Take the “Children in Hot Cars” online training course to help kids and pets stay safe from heatstroke.

By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

Sources include:,

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