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Is it OK to leave my child alone in the car for just a few minutes?

Family medicine doctor gives tips for car safety in every season


By
July 19, 2017

     


Many times, when we think of the dangers of cars, we think about the thousands of car crashes – fatal or not – that happen across the United States each day. Or perhaps we might think about the perils of drinking and driving.

But one sad reality we may forget is that, every 10 days, a child dies from being left in a hot car. This works out to be about 37 deaths per year – all of which could be avoided.

Isn’t this a result of poor parenting?

Some of these cases are results of neglect. But many of these deaths are purely accidental. Whether kids lock themselves in a vehicle or parents don’t realize they’ve left their child in the back seat, these fatal accidents do happen.

Raina Young, MD, a family medicine doctor at HealthPartners Eagan Clinic, explains just how easy it can be to leave a child in the car.

“Parents don’t mean to leave their kids in the car. Fatigue in particular tends to cause us to go into auto-pilot and make it so that our memories aren’t as good. It can happen to anyone,” she said. Adjusting to a new routine is another common factor that leads to these accidents.

How hot can cars get?

Accidents also sometimes occur because parents don’t realize just how hot a parked car can get – no matter what season it is. According to Dr. Young, a child’s body can heat up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.

“Cars and trucks heat up quickly, even on mild days. Children have been known to die of heat exposure in a car even when the outside temperature was as low as 60 degrees” Dr. Young said. “The temperature inside a vehicle can rise around 20 degrees within ten minutes. So even if kids are left in a car for a short time, they’re at risk of developing a serious heat-related illness.”

How can you keep your kids safe from hot cars?

The first step is to never leave your child alone in a car, even for a moment.

The second step is to be sure to take kids out of the car once you reach your destination. It’s helpful to set an obvious reminder to do so, like:

  • Leave an important item in the back seat of your car. This could be a briefcase or phone, for example. Because you need the item, you’ll be more likely to check your backseat before leaving the vehicle.
  • Make a stuffed animal one of your regular passengers. When your child is not in the car, keep the stuffed animal in their empty car seat. Then, when your child is riding along, move that same stuffed animal to your front passenger seat. It will serve as a reminder to check the back seat before leaving the car.
  • Set up calendar reminders. Some parents accidentally go to work and forget that they have kids or babies in the car. To prevent this, set an alert on your phone that reminds you to stop at daycare first.

Lastly, in order to help keep your own children and other kids safe around hot cars, be sure to:

  • Keep your car locked at all times. This will protect kids from getting in by accident or when they are playing. Also, make sure keys are out of their reach.
  • Use extra caution with rear-facing car seats. They look the same from the driver’s seat, whether a child is in them or not.
  • Try using drive-thru’s at restaurants or other locations. This way, you don’t have to leave the car.
  • Call 911 if you see a child alone in car.

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