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Keeping Kids Safe From the Dangers of Hot Cars

Medically reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD

A parked car in sunny weather is like a greenhouse and heats up very quickly. Even on a mild, sunny day in the 60s, the temperature in a parked car can get dangerously high.

Every summer, there are news reports of children dying after being left in a car, usually by accident when a caregiver didn’t realize or forgot that the child was in the car.

What Happens to Kids in Hot Cars?

Kids get hot faster than adults, with their body temperature rising three to five times faster than an adult's. Kids also sweat less than adults, making it even harder for them to keep cool.

Very young children left in a hot car can’t remove their clothing, let people know they’re getting too warm, or get out of a hot car by themselves.

A child stuck in a parked car can develop heat illness, including heatstroke. Heatstroke is a medical emergency that leads to brain damage or death if it isn't treated right away.

How Can I Make Sure I Don’t Leave My Child in the Car?

Before you get in the car:

  • Put something you need in the back seat with your child — like your cellphone, purse, or briefcase — so you’ll have to open the back door when you arrive.
  • Place a stuffed animal in the front seat when your child is in the rear as a reminder. You can keep it in the car seat or booster seat the rest of the time. 
  • Schedule follow-up calls. If you’re supposed to bring your child someplace, ask someone (like your partner or a daycare employee) to call you if your child doesn’t get there on time. If a caregiver is driving your child, call that person after the drop-off time to check in.
  • Set an alarm on your phone with a unique ringtone for when you’re supposed to drop off your child. Put your child’s name in the description.

When you’re in the car:

  • Set your GPS for your destination and have it talk you through the trip. This can help you avoid stopping somewhere else.
  • Talk to or sing with your child during the drive. This can help you remember your child is in the car.
  • Don’t use a phone or hands-free device while driving. Listening to a voicemail or having a conversation with someone other than your child could distract you.

When you arrive:

  • Open the back door whenever you park even if your child isn’t in the back. By making the action a routine, you’ll check when your child really is there. Some cars have rear seat reminder systems to let you know a child is in the back, but these features alone aren’t enough to keep kids safe.

Always let caregivers, grandparents, and anyone who may drive your child know about the dangers of hot vehicles and what they can do to protect kids.

What if I See a Child Left in a Hot Car?

If you see a child alone in a car, especially in hot weather, call 911. If the car is unlocked, open the car door to let some air in. If the child looks ill or isn’t moving, remove them from the vehicle as quickly as possible into shade or air conditioning and help them to cool off. You can spray cool water on their skin until help arrives.

If the car is locked and the child looks ill or isn’t moving, consider breaking into the car. Many states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who break into a car to save a child.

Medically reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: July 2023