Keeping Children Safe in and Around Cars

It is never safe for a child to be in or around a vehicle without adult supervision. During the warmer months of the year, unattended children left in cars are more likely to suffer heat-related illnesses. Children also may suffer injury when playing alone around parked vehicles. Program staff and parents can use this resource to learn more about car safety practices that keep young children healthy.

 Mother releasing smiling infant girl from car seat

Children Left in Cars May Develop Hyperthermia

Because of safety laws and regulations, most children are placed in child restraint systems in the backseat of passenger vehicles. While this practice has reduced the number of children critically injured and killed in auto crashes, it has increased the number of car-related fatalities related to hyperthermia, or heatstroke. Parents running quick errands for a few minutes may think their child will remain unharmed if left alone and buckled in the car. However, every year, new stories emerge about the life-threatening consequences of children unintentionally left in the back seat of cars.

Hyperthermia happens when a person's body temperature rises to at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit and their body cooling system cannot keep them cool.  A body temperature reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit can be deadly because the body's organs begin to shut down.

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Fast heartbeat, or slow and weak heartbeat
  • Flushed hot, dry skin
  • Sluggishness
  • Seizures

Hyperthermia can occur in vehicles even if temperatures outside are mild. When the temperature outside of the car reaches 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of a vehicle can reach life-threatening temperatures very quickly. If sunshine is present, the temperature inside the car can rise even faster.

This rise in vehicle temperature is very dangerous for young children. A young child's body temperature increases three to five times faster than that of an adult. Rolling the windows down a few inches is not enough to keep a car ventilated and cooled, and caregivers should never leave children unattended in vehicles.

Keeping Children Safe Around Cars and Other Vehicles

Young boy playing with steering wheel

It is also important to not let children play around cars unattended. Without proper adult supervision, a child can climb into an unlocked vehicle or become trapped inside the trunk, putting them at risk for suffocation or heatstroke. Therefore, caregivers should always keep parked vehicle doors and trunks locked.

Here are other tips that may help adults keep children safe around vehicles:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle
  • Make it a habit to always look in the back of the vehicle before locking the doors and walking away
  • Keep vehicles locked when not in use to prevent child entrapment
  • If a child is missing, check vehicles and trunks first
  • Use a reminder, such as a toy kept in the front seat, to remind the driver that a child is present in the vehicle

Related Resources

Keeping Children Safe In and Around Cars. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2017. English.

Last Reviewed: February 2017

Last Updated: February 24, 2017