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Park. Look. Lock.: What Parents Should Know about Heatstroke and Locked Cars

Published on May 05, 2022

Summer is just around the corner, and while this time of year typically conjures up daydreams of vacations, lazy days by the poolside, and backyard barbeques, it’s important to brush up on a summertime hot topic: heatstroke and locked cars.

Heatstroke, or hyperthermia, happens when the body’s temperature rises to dangerous levels and the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough. You might assume this only happens on the sports field or playing outside on a hot day, but heatstroke can happen doing something as routine as driving to work or the grocery store. In fact, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under 15. Sadly, a child dies every 10 days from heatstroke in a vehicle, and in more than half of those cases, a caregiver forgot or did not realize the child was in the car.

Sometimes children and babies can be amazingly quiet in the backseat, and busy parents can get lost in thought about their to-do list or other distractions. You might see your child sleeping peacefully in the backseat and feel guilty about waking them up just to run a quick errand in a store. Whatever the situation, remember: never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. Even on a cool day, a car can heat up 19 degrees in just 10 minutes in direct sunlight. Temperatures in a parked vehicle can be up to 40 degrees hotter than the outside temperature, so what might seem like a pleasant 70-degree day outside can mean temperatures of 110 degrees or more inside a locked car. It’s important to understand that cracking a window is not enough to keep a parked, locked car from heating to deadly temperatures for a child left inside.  

Did you know? Children are more susceptible and are at particular risk for serious injury due to heat because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s.

What you can do to prevent heat-related injury

Vehicle-related heat injuries and deaths can happen to anyone, anywhere; even the most loving parents and caregivers can get busy or distracted and forget a child is in the backset or can be unaware that a child has climbed into an unlocked vehicle. To prevent the unthinkable, remember to A.C.T.:

  • A = Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child alone in a car, even for a minute. When you’re away from your vehicle, be sure to lock it – a backseat or trunk may seem like an enticing hiding spot to a child, and they can inadvertently lock themselves inside. Teach your children that trunks and other cargo areas are not safe places to play, and keep your car keys out of reach of children. If you notice that your child is missing, always check the pool first and then the car, including the trunk.
  • C = Create reminders by leaving something that reminds you of your child in the front seat (like a favorite toy or stuffed animal) and something you need in the backseat (like your phone, purse, or briefcase). You can also create a reminder on your phone or computer. This is especially important if you’re changing your routine, like starting a new daycare schedule or taking a different route to work; our brains can often go on autopilot and it’s easy to forget to remember to check the backseat. Try to limit phone conversations and music as you’re driving with your child; instead, have a conversation with them directly. Ask your child’s daycare provider to call you if your child is more than 10 minutes late.
  • T = Take action. If you see a child in a car alone, get them out as soon as possible, call 911, and stay with the child until help arrives. You can also ask others to search for the driver or ask the store to page them over the intercom.

By remembering these three simple steps, we can keep our kids safe this summer and beyond.



About the Authors

Kristina Pasma, BSN, RN, CPSI, is a trauma nurse liaison at Valley Children's Healthcare. She is also the Safe Kids Central California Coalition Coordinator and is passionate about educating children and their families about injury prevention at home and in the community.


Hailey Nelson, MD, FAAP, IBCLC is a complex care pediatrician at Valley Children’s Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. As the ambassador for Safe Kids Central California, she is a vocal advocate for children’s wellness and regularly appears in news media discussing pediatric healthcare.