A hot car could mean heatstroke: eight measures you can take to avoid a devastating tragedy

It’s hard to imagine forgetting a child in the backseat of a car on a sunny, scorching 30 degree afternoon. But every year, there’s news of a child being left in a car, where the heat rose to dangerous, sweltering temperatures. Sadly, this tragic turn of events can happen to any parent or caregiver who has a temporary lapse of attention or disruption of a daily routine.

Cars and vans heat up quickly. Even if a window is rolled down two inches, when the outside temperature is in the low 20s (Celsius), the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes. Children's bodies overheat easily, and infants and children under four years of age are among those at greatest risk for heat-related illness, since their bodies absorb more heat on a hot day than an adult. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child's body temperature may increase three to five times as fast an adult. High body temperatures can cause permanent injury or even death.

Prevention is key to keeping children safe in the summer months, and year-round. By incorporating the following small measures into your daily routine, you can help prevent this type of tragedy from happening.

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
  • Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away.
  • Make sure your childcare provider knows to call you if your child has not been dropped off at the usual time.
  • Always place an item (purse, bag, etc.) in the backseat so that you have to open the door every time you leave the vehicle.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when it is not occupied. When your child is in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. This is a visual reminder: any time the stuffed animal is in the front seat, you know your child is in the back seat.
  • When you arrive at your destination, avoid any distractions including talking on the phone or texting while you exit your car.

If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.


Reviewed by Trauma specialists at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Last updated: September, 2015