Look Before You Lock

Look Before You Lock: How to Avoid Vehicular Heatstroke

Content provided by KidsandCars.org

Vehicular heatstroke is largely misunderstood by the general public. The majority of parents are misinformed and would like to believe that they could never “forget” their child in a vehicle. The most dangerous mistake a parent or caregiver can make is to think leaving a child alone in a vehicle could never happen to them or their family.  In over 55% of these cases, the person responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left them in the vehicle. In most situations  this happens to the most loving, caring and protective parents. It has happened to a teacher, dentist, social worker, police officer,  nurse, clergyman, soldier, and even a rocket scientist.  It can happen to anyone. The average number of U.S. child vehicular heat stroke deaths is 38 per year and almost 90% are age 3 or younger. Of these instances 56% were unknowingly left in the vehicle. Take a look at why this happens and how you can prevent it from happening to you and your loved ones!


The Greenhouse Effect In Vehicles 

The inside of a vehicle heats up very quickly. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in minutes.

80% of the increase in temperature happens in the first 10 minutes

Cracking the windows does not help slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature

Children have dies from heatstroke in cars in temps as low as 60 degrees


Contributing Factors 

A child’s body overheats 3‐5 times faster than an adult body.

A change in daily routine, lack of sleep, stress, hormone changes, fatigue, and simple distractions are things ALL new  parents experience and are just some of the reasons children have been unknowingly left alone in vehicles.

Rear‐facing car seats look the same whether there is a baby in it or not.

Children, especially babies, often fall asleep in their rear‐facing child safety seats; becoming quiet, unobtrusive little  passengers.



Prospective Memory is processed by 2 brain structures, the first, Hippocampus, stores new information, the ‘here and now’ (processes that a child is in the car). The second, Prefrontal Cortex, enables us to plan future, accounting for a change in routine (processes route, including to go  to daycare rather than straight to work).

Habit memory forms subconsciously through repeated activities like riding a bike. The Basal Ganglia stores habit memories (driving to/from work daily) and enables auto‐pilot.

What causes a parent to misremember?  The basal ganglia takes over and suppresses the prefrontal cortex. The brain is on auto‐pilot, doing what it would do on any given day, not accounting for changes in routine. Memory specialists note that the basal  ganglia is much more likely to take over when someone is fatigued.


Prevention/Safety Tips 

Make sure your child is never left alone in a car:

Make it a habit of opening the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind.

To enforce this habit, place an item that you can’t start your day without in the back seat ‐ employee badge,  laptop, phone, handbag, etc.

Ask your child care provider to call you right away if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.

Clearly announce and confirm who is getting each child out of the vehicle. Miscommunication can lead to  everyone thinking someone else removed the child.


Make sure children cannot get into a parked car:

Keep vehicles locked at all times, especially in the garage or driveway. Ask neighbors and visitors to do the  same.

Never leave car keys within reach of children.

Teach children to honk the horn if they become stuck inside a car.

If a child is missing, immediately check the inside, floorboards and trunk of all vehicles in the area very carefully.


Additional safety tips:

Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.

If a child goes missing, immediately check the inside passenger compartments and trunks of all vehicles in the  area very carefully, even if they are locked. A child may lock the car doors after entering a vehicle on their own,  but may not be able to unlock them.

If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately.  If the child seems hot or sick, get them  out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.

Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays. This is when many  tragedies occur.

Use drive‐thru services when available (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.) and pay for gas at the  pump.

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