Dr. Ducharme’s Blog May 13, 2019 Kids Dying in Hot Cars

May 13, 2019

Although our weather has been rainy and cold, we have had a few hot days and summer is just around the corner. I first published this blog post a few years ago. I wish I had never had the need to write it. However, too many children and pets  continue to die after being left in in a hot car. It is almost always accidental. Few people do this on purpose. And yet, it continues to happen. Within minutes, even at 80 degrees F the temperature in a car can rise to over 100 degrees. So with a few updates, here it is again.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of deaths in vehicles (excluding crashes) for children 14 years old and younger. Since 1998, an average of 38 children have died each year in the U.S. of vehicular heatstroke. However, according to Consumer Reports, 2018 had 51 deaths, the highest number since 2010.

The danger from high temperatures is particularly acute for young children because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults' bodies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In about half the cases, children are forgotten in the back seat, according to the nonprofit KidsAndCars.org. Often, a parent has forgotten to drop a child off at daycare.

There are some theories about why this trend has continued to increase. Two decades ago this was relatively rare. However, when experts in the 1990’s determined that air bags could kill children, they recommended that car seats be placed in the back seat and facing the rear for young children.The unfortunate result was decreased visibility of a child. Who could have foreseen the horrible consequences? And what kind of people do this? 

It turns out that all kinds of people do this.  The human brain goes on a sort of autopilot when we are engaging in  familiar and routine motor skills. We are all so busy multitasking it is easy to forget things...even a child sleeping in the back seat. Someone once told me that multi tasking means you are doing a lot of things...but none of them well. In today’s world we are so often talking on the phone while driving, rushing from place to place that it is really easy to become distracted. This is especially true if you are tired and stressed out.

Being a parent is by far the most difficult job any of us will ever have. It is 24-7 with no days off. Having a baby or small child means you are probably sleep deprived. First time parents have to get used to taking the baby in and out of the car. Put that all together and you have a formula for making mistakes and potential disaster. I have had new parents tell me they got half way to the store and realized they had left the baby in the infant seat at home. Fortunately, they quickly turned around and retrieved the baby.

Here are some helpful reminders to minimize the chances of leaving your child in a hot car.


Slow down and get rest when you can. Many things can wait.

Keep in touch with friends. Having a good support system definitely reduces feelings of stress.

Exercise. Put you child in the stroller and start walking. It relaxes you both.

Try to find a few minutes a day just for you. Take a bath and listen to music, even if it is for 15 minutes. Read a book, knit or do anything that helps you relax.

And this one is really easy. Remember to breathe correctly. Abdominal breathing, often called belly breathing or diaphramatic breathing decreases tension almost immediately.


 There is also growing demand for new devices that help parents or caregivers remember, such as a key fob that beeps if a car seat remains buckled for a certain period of time after the engine turns off. Such devices have generally been inconsistent and unreliable in their performance. One, however, seems to have some positive reviews…RideNRemind. It is a bit pricey and apparently needs an auto mechanic to install. Please check with your local police department or on line to see what might work for you.


In most new cars, an alert sounds if a driver or passenger is not wearing a seat belt or if headlights are left on. Using a similar idea, there are carseats made with a sensor on the infant seat harness which triggers a series of tones if a child is still buckled in when the ignition is switched off. The feature is meant to remind drivers who might forget that a child is in the vehicle.

The National Weather Service makes the following recommendations to keep your keeps and pets safe when you take them in the car:

Never leave a Child or Animal unattended in a vehicle...not even for a minute.

If you see a child unattended in a vehicle call 911 immediately.

Be sure all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.

Always lock your car and ensure kids do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. If a child is missing, always check the pool first, then the car including the trunk. Teach your children that cars are never to be used as a play area.

Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver.

Or...place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.

Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car.

Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

And remember...BEAT the HEAT   CHECK the BACKSEAT.