Your car is a dangerous place for your child, one of the most dangerous places that children inhabit daily. Here at CSFTL we work daily to help caregivers keep kids safe while on the go by making the best choices when transporting their Littles.
Though vehicle accidents are the main focus of our child passenger safety advocacy, children are also injured or killed in vehicles that are not involved in collisions. Hyperthermia deaths due to children trapped in cars are a preventable tragedy that we hope education can help eradicate. 9000 American children a year are treated in emergency rooms after being left unattended and injured by vehicles. The injuries and deaths from these two scenarios are easily prevented with simple habits that every driver can adopt: together we can eliminate these driveway dangers.
Look Before you Lock, Lock Before you Leave
Perhaps surprisingly, 30% of those hyperthermia tragedies occur when children become trapped in a car after climbing in on their own. We have written at length about avoiding these heart breaking situations by using simple or more technologically advanced reminders: that’s the look before you lock part of the equation. But here I’d like to emphasize the second part: lock before you leave.
Like adults, kids think of their cars as part of their territory: after all we spend more than seven 40 hour work weeks in the car annually. We leave our stuff in the car, we run out to the garage to grab our bags, we lose our favorite sweatshirts under the seat for months.
Kids are no different: running out to the car to grab a toy is an entirely logical child-like version of an adult behavior. And when thinking of a place to hide in a game of hide and seek, who’s to say that the car seems any different to a 5 year old than any other part of the yard or house?
Parked Cars Present Risks
But the car has some very important, potentially fatal differences. Cars lock from the outside. Cars are virtually sound-proof. That means that a child who decided to get in the car to grab a back pack or hide from a sibling and couldn’t open the door from the inside couldn’t be heard as the car heated, quickly and potentially fatally. If we can just prevent children going into the car, we can begin to chip away at that 30% of hyperthermia victims who are children who get trapped in cars by themselves.
There’s an easy way to prevent these tragedies: lock before you leave. Every driver, every time. Locking is not about theft: it’s about the safety of our most vunerable family members. Keep the keys off limits and out of reach. Don’t play in the car or the trunk. And if a child is missing, the first place you look is in any pool or body of water, but the second is in and under any vehicles.
The second silent danger in our driveways is children being injured or killed at low speeds. This kind of accident has always seemed particularly tragic to me as it’s most likely to be the adult who loves the child the most who causes her injury.
Children should never be unattended around cars, but life happens and kids don’t always follow our rules. So on top of teaching your children that they must never be unattended or play near cars, we need to be careful to walk around every car every time we pull out. When backing up, always roll down your window: this is easy and especially in places like busy parking lots or schools, having the window open may be the difference between hearing a screaming bystander and not.
Hold hands when exiting cars, and teach children safe spots in your yard or driveway. Teach children to treat every car like it may move backward or forward at any time and remind older Littles that they’re not so big: even a tween can easily be lost in a blind spot. Keep older kids in the car when possible if you need time to unload younger children. Designating a spot on the outside of the car for an older child’s hand to stay while unloading younger children is a good investment in safe parking lot behavior.
Staying Safe at Home
Using the proper car seat or seat belt correctly every single ride is at the heart of our message. But our passion goes beyond that — it stretches into driveways, hot cars, and anywhere a child could be harmed by a preventable injury. We can also make our driveways, garages and parking lots safer places for children using some very simple tricks.
Look before you lock, lock before you leave and always treat cars like the dangers they are, even when parked.