How Can We Prevent Children from Being Left in Cars?

How can anyone leave a child in a car? It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, but it’s also the scathing response to stories about children who die or are seriously injured as a result of being left in a hot car. Such stories spike every year during the summer, with some brutally high temperatures. In 2013, there were 44 such tragedies, and 2014 is on track to match that. While in some cases, care providers cruelly left their children in cars deliberately, far more commonly, they forgot them — and several groups are working on ways to make it harder to forget kids in the car.

Most often, the reason care providers forget that they have their children is due to stress, distractions and breaks in routine. The problem can be compounded without a failsafe or backup system — one parent might think the baby is with the other, for example, or a mixup at daycare may mean that neither parent is called when a toddler doesn’t show up, because the staff assumes the toddler is out for the day for medical appointments or other reasons. Tragically, the recommendation to put children in the backseat for additional safety has compounded the problem by making it literally possible for children to be out of sight and out of mind, especially if they quiet down or go to sleep during long car rides.

Many of the tips for preventing heat deaths are analog in nature; for example, some suggest keeping a teddy bear or other stuffed animal in the car seat, and moving it to the front seat when the child is in the car. This serves as a reminder that there’s a child in the car. Others suggest that putting briefcases, coats and other professional gear in the back seat forces adults to look in the back and see a child before heading out for work. “Where’s Baby?” reminds parents to “Look before [they] lock.” Setting up a failsafe, such as asking daycare facilities to call when children don’t arrive, can serve as an alert as well.

Other solutions are more high-tech, with inventors turning their minds to options to keep children out of hot cars using the powers of technology. Auto designer Dennis Aneiros, for example, designed a carseat that works with the integrated systems in the vehicle to flash the lights, honk the horn and start the A/C if no one responds. A smartphone app that works with a carseat sends an alert if a child is left in a stationary vehicle, if the seat is positioned improperly, or if a car is getting too hot. Proximity sensors have also been considered (the parent uses a seat clip for the child, and carries an alert device — if the two get separated, an alarm goes off). Automakers are considering the problem, and so are rocket scientists. Troublingly, government research on such systems shows they may not be entirely reliable, and they could create false security for parents.

Fighting heat deaths may require a combination of technology and public outreach campaigns, but in the meantime, what should you do if you see a child left alone in a car? Call 911 immediately, along with a service like 1-800-Pop-a-Lock. If necessary, don’t wait for help: Break a window to get the child out, and spray her with cool mist to help bring her body temperature down. Follow the directions of the 911 operator, and wait for paramedics to arrive.

Photo credit: Ben Francis.


Jane R.
Jane R2 years ago

One good solution: Use your brain. Make a habit of looking in the back seat even if you "know" for a fact that you don't have your child with you. It will become as routine as buckling your seatbelt.
Then car manufacturers could install an alarm that goes off if the weight of an infant is not removed from the seat once the motor is shut off.
I cannot fathom how anyone, no mater how busy or distracted could forget they have their child with them.

Sarah Hill
Sarah H2 years ago

I have never figured out how you could forget you have your baby! Our children are our most important responsibility!

Deborah W.
Deborah W2 years ago

NEVER leave kids in the car ... no exceptions, no matter how brief or stressful. Hopefully this fact becomes the constant before a brief time, unexpectedly extended or distracted, produces such a tragic ending.

Maybe cart-collectors could help alert the store to license plate and model of small kids left alone (perhaps some kind of "reward" for each reported sighting might be the reminder needed for the mindless ... embarrassing to say the least, while alerting others going in and out, and alert squad cruisers to check as well). Shouldn't be needed but obviously is.

Always pay attention, and it's not just hot cars. I've witnessed numerous wagons with the backs open ... to a point where now and again they've lost a kid out the back while rraveling.

All life is precious ... as is stewardship and should be treated so.

Leopold Marek
Leopold Marek2 years ago


Terry Meek
Terry Meek2 years ago

It cut off the last of my comment. I said Nothing is so important that you have to leave your children in a car in order to buy something in a store. Nothing. I raised 5 children plus s few neighborhood kids and later grandchildren. They all went with me inside a store wherever I went. Those that worry about behavior in a store obviously doesn't correct them at home. If you discipline your children at home correctly, they will mind you out in public.

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Terry Meek
Terry Meek2 years ago

Parents are stressed at having to remove kids out of car seats and take them with them inside a store when they will "be right back" if they go by themselves. Not many worry about abduction when they have so many errands to do in the same time and think "it won't hurt if I'm gone just a few minutes". I have personally found several kids in stores, walking down the sidewalk crying, etc. that have become lost from their parents and are very trusting. All I have to do is walk up to them and ask "are you lost" and they start asking for their mom. I'm a senior and a grandmother so I look safe to them and I am. I see other people looking at them so I stay with them until I can have someone call the mother over the pager system. The one on the sidewalk crying was at a park and there were men squatting on the grass just watching her cry. I don't know if he had anything in mind but I stayed with her until her mother came with a cop looking for her. She became angry with me because I didn't try to find her mother. I told her I wasn't about to put a crying child in my car and drive off that didn't belong to me. The cop was surprised she was angry. He talked to her and she realized I took care of her child while she was alone and afraid. She then turned around and said thank you. Dying in a hot car is not the only thing that can happen to a child. Someone could take them out and you may never see them again. Nothing is so important that you have to leave your children in a car in order t

pam w.
pam w2 years ago

A note on a steering wheel which says "KIDS IN CAR" is not exactly ROCKET SCIENCE!

Deborah W.
Deborah W2 years ago


Keep nearest emergency number in your local area handy in your purse. If you observe kids in a hot car, call for emergency help, get license number and make announcement in store (if possible), then return immediately to car. If no owner or emergency help responds shortly thereafter, break the dam window.

I suppose now we'll have to press for a legal ruling stating no-cost window replacement to caller, OR split replacement cost between owner and caller, OR something else that begins and ends with the incident, allowing no additional "legal" involvement by ambulance chasers or others.

Nothing worthwhile in life is simple is it?

Always pay attention, and it's not just hot cars, I've witnessed numerous vans with the backs open ... to a point where now and again they've lost a kid out the back while rraveling.

Erin H.
Erin H2 years ago

Interesting article, thank you!

Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 2 years ago

First, we need proper education.