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Preventing Kids From Getting Trapped in Parked Cars

Parked cars can be dangerous places for kids, whether they’re left in the car or get in by themselves. On a hot or even mild day, a parked car can heat up quickly. Children can develop heat illness and possibly heatstroke, which is life-threatening. Kids also could put the car in “drive” or get hurt moving seats or opening and closing windows.

How Can I Avoid Accidentally Leaving My Child in the Car?

Things like stress, too little sleep, phone calls, and changes in routine can distract even the most careful parents in the car. For example, you get a call while driving and forget that it’s your day to bring your child to daycare. You accidentally head straight to work and forget to drop off your child.

Leaving kids in the back seat by accident can happen to anyone. It’s especially important to take precautions when your schedule is different than usual.

Here are some tips to protect kids.

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’s 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 off 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 Else Should I Know About Keeping Kids Safe Around Parked Cars?

Kids can get into cars without you knowing — for instance, if they see a toy inside, play hide-and-seek, or want to "drive" like their parents.

Keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Don’t ever leave kids alone in or near a parked car, even if you’re just running into your home or a store for a few seconds.
  • Always lock your car and keep the keys out of reach of children. Ask visitors to your home to do the same.
  • Don’t give your child keys or a key fob to use as toys.
  • Explain to your kids that the car isn’t a play area, and they should never go in it by themselves. If they need something from the car, they should ask an adult. You can also teach toddlers and older children to honk the car horn if they can’t get out.

If you can’t find your child at some point, check any vehicles that are close, including in the trunks.

What Should I Do if I See a Child Alone in a Car?

If you see a child alone in a car, call 911 right away and ask someone to try to find the driver. This may include having the driver paged if you’re in the parking lot of somewhere like a store, stadium, or fair. If the car is unlocked, open the car door to let some air in, especially if it’s a warm or hot day. If the child looks ill or isn’t moving, move the child from the car into shade or air conditioning, and 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.

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date Reviewed: Jun 15, 2023

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