The Dangers of Leaving Your Kids in the Car

It’s every parent’s nightmare. You’re standing outside your locked vehicle in the sweltering heat and your child (or furry friend) is trapped inside. Whether you had a momentary brain freeze and locked your keys in the trunk or ‘Mini-Me’ accidentally hit the lock button, it doesn’t matter. You’re outside, they’re inside, and the temperature is going up.

For AMA’s Roadside Assistance team it’s not an uncommon situation. If a child or pet is locked in a vehicle we’ve got you covered – our dispatchers will shoot your call right to the top of our priority list. It may be business as usual for AMA’s rescue crews, but we get a close up view at just how stressful it can be to both the driver and the child locked inside.

Of course the simple answer is that children should never be left unattended in a vehicle, even for a minute. When the thermometer soars so does the risk and impact of heat-related illness, especially for babies and toddlers.

Stay cool in the hot sun

You see, adults’ extra body weight and ability to cool off by sweating helps them adjust to high temperatures. But according to the Canada Safety Council, an infant or small child’s core temperature can increase three to five times as fast as an adult’s.

Studies have shown that on a 35°C day a car can go from air-conditioned to 50°C in 20 minutes and to 65.5°C in just 40 minutes. Heat stroke can set in at much lower temperatures, bringing symptoms like dizziness, confusion, blurred vision and even loss of consciousness or seizures.

If you suspect a passenger is suffering from heat stroke give them water, juice or sports drinks with electrolytes, but avoid caffeine and alcohol which can add to dehydration. If the symptoms are severe, find a cool shady place to stop and rest.

Stay focused

Being in a rush, a change in daily routine, or fatigue brought on by the heat can create a distraction when running errands. To stay focused, follow some simple rituals while you are out and about.

  • Make a habit of checking the back seat every time you get out of your vehicle.
  • Look before you lock. Lock doors manually with your key instead of the fob to stay present in the moment.
  • Keep a spare key on a separate key ring in your purse or pocket for emergencies.
  • Leave a note on your dash, or put your phone, wallet or purse in the back by the car seat.
  • Make a habit of leaving a stuffed animal in the car seat. When you buckle up Junior move it to the front seat as a reminder.
  • At home, make sure your vehicle is locked, keep your keys and garage door openers out of reach and make sure kids don’t play in the car.

Remember, if the situation is critical or you spot a child left in someone else’s vehicle call 911 immediately and stay on the scene. If you have trouble connecting to emergency services, call AMA at 1-800-222-4357 and we’ll be there as soon as possible.

While waiting, ask for help from passers-by and canvas nearby shops to find the driver. If you do find the parent, resist the temptation for scolding and stay focused on working together to get the child out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.

When I'm not busy advocating for safer roads and communities, I can be found advocating for my children to eat their vegetables and clean their rooms. I'm committed to helping AMA members find the confidence to live their best lives.