As sweltering heat approaches, experts share hot car safety tips

The NHTSA and Kids and Car Safety are warn about the dangers of hot cars.

June 17, 2024, 2:15 PM

Experts are reminding the public of the dangers of heatstroke amid the approach of sweltering heat across much of the U.S. this week.

Temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast are forecasted to reach at least 90 degrees, impacting about 265 million people or about 82% of the national population.

Aside from its impact on people, high temperatures can cause cars to overheat even faster. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, temperatures inside a car can climb to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even when the temperature outdoors is in the 70s.

A car is seen in an undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The NHTSA also notes that heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke, which can lead to death, can start to occur when one's body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A child can die when their internal body temperature reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit due to their body's inability to further regulate their temperature, leading to organ failure and death.

The nonprofit Kids and Car Safety reports that at least two children have already died this year in a hot car and over 1,083 kids have died since 1990. Twenty-nine children died in 2023 as a result of being in a hot car, according to the NHTSA.

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"This is something that most parents would like to believe would never happen to them. However, what we know after documenting well over 1,000 fatalities is that this happens to wonderful, loving, responsible parents," Kids and Car Safety Director Amber Rollins previously told "Good Morning America." "It can literally happen to anybody, even ... organized, safety-conscious parents, and so it's really important for families to take these dangers seriously and to take precautions to keep their children safe."

With the official start of summer just three days away, here is what parents and caregivers need to know, as well as the top five tips to prevent hot car deaths.

Never leave children unattended in a vehicle

The No. 1 tip for any parent or caregiver is to never leave a child in a car, even if it's for a short period of time. "Rolling windows down or parking in the shade does little to change the interior temperature of the vehicle," the NHTSA states.

Always check a car before walking away

Rollins calls this important step the "look before you lock" reminder.

"We want people to make it a habit, any which way you have to do it, to make it a habit of opening that back door and checking the back seat every single time you leave your vehicle," Rollins said.

"If a child does go missing, check the inside floorboard and trunk of all vehicles in the area immediately, even if they're locked," she continued.

Always lock car doors after completing a check

"We want to keep our cars locked 100% of the time, even if you don't have kids," Rollins said. "Keep your keys and your remote openers to your vehicle out of reach of children at all times so that they can't gain access if they are locked."

Ask a child's day care provider or a family member for notifications

"If your child goes to day care or a family member watches them during the day, any kind of child care, you want to make the policy with them, that they will call you immediately if your child doesn't show up as scheduled," Rollins said.

Use a reminder item

"Any time that you put the baby in the backseat, put something in the backseat on the floorboard right in front of them that you can't start your day without," Rollins said, adding that a laptop might work for a parent who needs to work with a computer.

"Keep some type of stuffed animal, a big bright stuffed animal or reminder item in your car. So for me, I've got this big giant lion stuffed animal. You can't miss it. I mean, it's obnoxious and that stuffed animal lives in the car seat. And then anytime I put my son in the car seat, that stuffed animal comes up to the front seat with me as a visual reminder that he is with me."

Both the NHTSA and Rollins also recommend teaching children about the hazards of being in a car and how a car should not be considered a play area.

"We talk to our kids about how it's never safe to get into a vehicle without a grown-up," Rollins said.

Additionally, Rollins said parents can take further steps to safeguard their homes and vehicles.

"A lot of times, what happens in these cases is mom and dad think the toddler is napping. The toddler wakes up from the nap and sneaks outside and gets in the car, and then they can't get back out, and before anybody realizes it, it's too late," Rollins said.

"So, you can get those childproofing doorknob covers. Also, you could buy these little stick-on-door alarms that you can put on the door [leading to the] outside of your home and those will alert you with a visual and audio alert that a door has been opened," she added.

If a child is found in distress or is spotted inside a vehicle unattended, the NHTSA reminds everyone to immediately dial 911. A child in a hot car should be removed from the vehicle as soon as possible and rapidly cooled, according to the NHTSA.

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