Why You Should Never (Ever!) Leave Your Child in the Car

The number of kids who have died from heatstroke in cars is up this season. Here's how to keep yours safe

It'll only take a moment -- you just need to grab a quart of milk. It's a safe neighborhood and nice weather. Your 2-year-old will be okay in the car for a minute, right?

Absolutely not. Never. Not for a minute, not under any circumstances. Even during mild weather, the temperature inside a parked car can quickly climb to temperatures that can cause life-threatening heat exhaustion in a small child. With this year's high temperatures in much of the US, 15 children have already died this summer from heatstroke after being left alone in a car, according to Consumer Reports. That's double the amount at this time last year.

In some cases, the child had gotten into a car without supervision and didn't know how to get out, so it's just as dangerous to let youngsters play near parked cars. In other cases, the child was intentionally left behind during a quick errand or was forgotten and left behind accidentally.

The results can be devastating. A small child's body temperature can increase three to five times as fast as an adult's, possibly causing permanent organ damage or death.

You might think that this could never happen in a family like yours, but it does. These situations typically arise when parents or caregivers alter their daily routine, such as unexpectedly taking their child to day care on the way to work. In fact safety advocates recommend putting a stuffed animal or other soft toy on the passenger seat beside you as a reminder that you have a child passenger in the backseat. You can also place your briefcase, phone or purse (or anything else you know you'll need at your next stop) in the backseat to avoid forgetting.

Here's some sound advice for kiddie car safety:

--Keep car doors and the trunk locked and keep the keys and fobs away from children.

--Teach your kids how to use the emergency release inside the trunk. If you have an older car that doesn't have an interior trunk release, ask your dealer to install one, preferably with a glow-in-the-dark label or handle.

--If you find a child in a parked car without an adult present, consider it an emergency and call 911. If the child appears to be unconscious and does not wake up when you make noise, get some air into the car, even if you have to break a window.

--Even a child who seems fine after exposure to extreme heat should be seen promptly by a doctor for follow-up assessment because heat exhaustion can have hidden effects on vital organs. Get immediate medical help if a child's skin is hot to the touch -- with or without perspiration -- or if a child has a seizure or becomes disoriented after exposure to high temperatures.

--Let a heated car interior cool off before you buckle a child back in, as the buckle of a car seat or safety belt can burn a child's skin.

--Use yourself to gauge conditions: If the air and surfaces inside the car are uncomfortable for you, they're dangerous for a child.

Please don't underestimate the danger of overheating in parked cars. Fortunately, the most foolproof precaution is also the simplest: Never leave your child alone.

For more info on keeping your toddler safe, check out Safe Kids.

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