Look Before You Lock: Summer Risks to Kids in and Around Cars
We always talk about how to best protect children who are riding in cars with car seats and booster seats, but kids can be injured in and around cars in other ways you may not be aware of. The following is a Q & A with Katherine Hutka, Health Promotion Specialist in Child Passenger Safety with Child Safety Link.
Q: What are the biggest risks to kids around cars?
A: The biggest risks to children in and around cars include the risks of being driven over because a driver could not see them, or getting trapped in a hot car.
Q: How can families protect against drive-overs or back-overs?
A: With the warmer weather, kids of all ages are playing in the driveway or running around outside. Before you leave any driveway or parking space:
- Make sure all children are directly supervised
- Walk all the way around your car before backing or driving out.
A glance in the rear-view mirror is never enough. Every car and truck has a blindzone directly in front of, behind on the sides and even under the vehicle. Without walking around, you could miss a child just out of view in your blindzone. Even if you have a back-up camera, make sure you look all around your vehicle and in your mirrors. A child on a bike can come upon you really quickly.
Q: How are children injured in hot cars?
A: We have heard of the growing tragedy of babies and young children being left in a hot car – but let’s talk about how it happens and why. There are 3 main ways this can happen:
#1. In some cases, a caregiver will leave a child alone in a car for a few minutes to run an errand and is somehow delayed returning.
- Never leave a young child alone inside the car, not even for a minute.
The car can heat up to dangerous temperatures in minutes even on a mild day, but heat is only one of many dangers of leaving a child alone in the car. Kids are curious and other risks include strangulation in power windows. Children have also knocked cars into gear or gotten out of the vehicle, where they face a whole new set of parking lot dangers or street dangers.
#2. In other cases, a small child has entered an unlocked car, become trapped in the car and confused in the heat and then can’t figure out how to get out of the car.
- Always keep your car locked, to prevent children from getting in and becoming trapped.
#3. And finally, sometimes tragically, infants and children are left unknowingly by their caregivers. There are a lot of reasons that this can happen – lack of sleep, a change of routine or a lapse in memory. The important thing to understand in these cases is that it can happen to anyone.
Q: What can parents do to be aware of this risk?
A: The tragedy of losing a child in a hot car has happened to families who love their children dearly, to parents from all demographics, including medical professionals, teachers and rocket scientists. Their only mistake was allowing their multitasking brains to lose awareness of their child’s presence in the back seat of the car. We have all driven to work on “autopilot;” the danger occurs when there is a change in the regular routine and your brain tricks you into thinking that a quiet car means that you already dropped the child off at daycare.
The best defense against this fatal memory lapse is to acknowledge that everyone, including you, is at risk and to plan for it. There are several things you can do to help make sure this never happens to you:
- Make it a habit to “Look Before You Lock” – what this means is open the back door and check the back seat every single time you drive your vehicle, even if you don’t normally transport the children.
- Always leave something you will need for the day in your backseat. Your phone, your purse, your briefcase. The idea is that if you didn’t get the item from the back seat, you would soon need to use that item and would have to go back to the car to get it.
- Talk to your daycare about calling families whenever a child does not arrive at their regular drop-off time in the morning.
Q: Is this common in Canada?
It is not as common in Canada that it is in the US – we have a shorter summer season, but it does happen. Children have died in hot cars on days where the outside temperature was 12 degrees Celsius. Kids are injured in and around cars in small and larger ways in the Maritimes and most importantly – these injuries are preventable.
*Photos used with permission from KidsandCars.org