Prevent Hot-Car Deaths: A Checklist for Parents

Earlier this week, a 4-month-old girl died in the back seat of a car in Phoenix after her father forgot she was there and went to work. It brings this year’s total number of hot-car deaths to 48, according to advocacy group

How can this happen? “The first and most important thing to understand is that this happens to good people, great parents who love their kids,” says Dr. Ben Hoffman, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. “We are busy, we get distracted, routine shifts and people get pulled in different directions. It’s a testament to how complicated life can be.”

In fact, he says, these tragedies often occur when there is a change in routines. He gives this example: “Say your normal routine is to go from home, to daycare and then to work, but you have to stop and pick up cupcakes on the way for somebody’s birthday. So you’re distracted trying to pick which cupcakes, you get back in the car, and you think, ‘I’ve got to get these to work.’ And you go to work.”

The key, according to Dr. Hoffman, is for families to stay mindful and present.

Here’s a checklist for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe.

  1. Write an actual checklist of your to-dos on a stickie note to keep on your windshield — and cross items off as you complete them. For example: Put on seatbelt. Drive to day care. Remove child from car. Check the backseat. Go to work.
  2. Place something in the backseat that is essential for your day, like your employee badge or purse. (Make sure it is secured in case of collision and out of the child’s reach.)
  3. Avoid distracted driving — especially texting or scrolling. Stay focused and mindful of the task.
  4. Set a recurring alarm on your phone as a reminder to take your child out of the car.
  5. Ask your day care about its policy to call the family if a child does not show up by a certain time. An extended communication chain can provide a safety net.
  6. Be extra alert when there is a change in routine, like someone driving the child who usually doesn’t, an alternate route to child care or work, or an appointment.
  7. Make a habit of opening the back door and checking the back seat every time you park, no matter what.
  8. Never leave a child in the car, not even for a minute.

And as fall approaches, remember that heat stroke in cars is not just a warm-weather danger. While outside temperature is one factor, so is the sun, and even the color of the car. “Even if it’s 60 degrees out, the bright sunlight into a car can make it hot enough to hurt a child,” says Dr. Hoffman. “It absolutely can still be a fall issue, and in warmer parts of the country where it doesn’t get cold, it can be a year-round problem.”

He adds: “The interior of your car gets much hotter than you think.”