Preventing Heat Stroke

Your baby just fell asleep in the car seat, but you have to run into the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. It'll only take a minute, so you're wondering, "How long can I leave my baby in the car if I crack the windows?"

The answer: It is never okay to leave a child alone in the car - not even for a minute!

Leaving children in cars - even for a moment - can cause dangerous overheating. Every year, more than 40 children die from hyperthermia after being left alone in cars. Usually they are left accidentally or when parents think they'll only be gone for a minute.

Studies have found that cracking the window of the car simply doesn't work. The heat rises extremely fast, even with the car windows rolled down as much as eight inches. It may surprise you to know that even on a pleasant day, at a comfortable 72 degrees, the temperature of a car will pass 100 degrees within 20 minutes. On hot days in the 90s, like the ones we've seen this summer, the inside temperature of a car can quickly reach a sizzling and dangerous 140 degrees.

Children absorb heat much more rapidly than adults, as much as five time as fast. Children and infants overheat easily because their respiratory and circulatory systems aren't as effective at cooling. When their body temperatures get that high, it can lead to permanent injury or even death. And hyperthermia can affect children of any age - there are recorded deaths of children as old as 13 who were overcome by heat in a car.

If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible and call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Even if you know never to leave a child alone in a car, beware of accidents. Young children can crawl into an unlocked car and not be able to get out again. Or if your routine is off, it's possible to forget that young children are tucked away in the back in their car seat.

To avoid the potentially fatal mistake of leaving your child in the car, practice these safety tips:

  • Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, even if only for a moment.
  • Keep all car doors locked, and make sure the trunk is securely closed and locked.
  • Do not let children play in or around cars; make sure they understand that cars are not play areas and can be dangerous when adults aren't around.
  • Remember that children can overheat five times faster than adults. Never leave them in a parked car on a warm or sunny day, even if the windows are open.
  • Make a habit of looking in both the front and back seat of your car before locking the door and walking away.
  • Place your purse, wallet or something else you always carry with you in the backseat so that you'll have to look back before you leave the car.
  • If you're not following your normal routine - such as a spouse dropping of your child at daycare or school when you normally do it - be extra careful. For example, call to make sure everything went smoothly and your child was dropped off okay.
  • If a child is missing, check all vehicles, including the trunks, first.

Heat Related Illnesses: Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

Safety In and Around Cars