Preventing Hot Car Deaths — Tips for Preschoolers

(Last Updated On: August 8, 2019)

Hot car deaths, or vehicular hyperthermia, are among our worst nightmares as Child Passenger Safety Technicians.  Every year, on average, 38 children die in hot cars.  2018 was the worst year on record — 52 preventable deaths.  The two main causes of death are:

  • The child is unintentionally left in the car
  • The child unknowingly climbs back into the car and gets trapped

We discuss this topic in a few other articles but we’d like to share some important tips for parents of preschoolers who are mature enough to ONLY use these tips at the appropriate time.

HUGE Disclaimer

Before we start, here’s a disclaimer:  these tips can be real lifesavers for children who are mature enough to use them at the correct time.

If your preschooler is prone to trying things at the wrong time or would be likely to try any of these tips while the car is in motion, we’d suggest waiting until the child is mature enough to differentiate between a safe time to work on these techniques — when the car is stopped and the parents are helping to coach them — and an unsafe time to work on these techniques — any other time.

Unbuckle Themselves

Using the Unbuckle Me: step 1

Using the Unbuckle Me: step 1

Teach your kids to unbuckle their own car seats. For lots of preschoolers, in everyday life, this is empowering. Just like their older siblings, they will unbuckle themselves only when the car is off and an adult gives them the go ahead.

For many harnessed car seats, the primary method for preschoolers to unbuckle themselves is to reach the harness adjuster button and push it while leaning forward to loosen the straps. Loose straps make unbuckling both the chest clip and the crotch buckle easier for small hands.

If unbuckling themselves at the appropriate time is a part of their everyday life, should they get left in a car, they will have the skills to get out.  The UnBuckleMe can help with this when the child is old enough to use it only when needed.

Shimmy Out of the Harness

Kids who can’t unbuckle the crotch buckles themselves or who can’t use an UnbuckleMe or BuckleBopper can still unbuckle their chest clip and shimmy out of their harness.  Like all of these tips, we suggest using your best judgment around teaching your children to do this so they don’t decide to test it while you’re driving (or at any other inopportune moment)!

Open the Car Door

Prevent hot car deaths -- teach your Littles how to open the door

Prevent hot car deaths — teach your Littles how to open the door

If possible, teach your kids how to open the car doors. Again, this can be empowering for kids who are ready to be big! They’ll need to learn that opening the door is only done when the car is safely turned off and their grownups say it’s OK.

If they have these skills because they use them every day, they’ll be able to get themselves out of the car in an emergency.

Honk the Horn

preschooler how to honk the horn for attention if they're left in a hot car

Teach your preschooler how to honk the horn for attention if they’re left in a hot car

Cars are nearly soundproof: a child who is trapped in a car will not be able to make enough noise for the outside world to hear. Honking the horn, however, will get a reaction.

Once a child has freed themselves from their car seat’s harness or unbuckled their booster seat and climbed out, they can honk the horn to bring attention to their plight if they’re unable to open the door to free themselves.

Children who lack the upper body strength to push the horn themselves can sit on the driver’s seat and push the button with their feet.

Empowerment is Key

preschooler how to honk the horn for attention if they're left in a hot car

Preschoolers can learn how to honk the horn for attention if they’re left in a hot car

We hope these tips inspire you to teach your Littles these important tips — they could save their own lives!

Like anything else, we encourage you to use discretion in teaching these tips to your kiddos, but if they’re mature enough to use them ONLY in an emergency, they could save a life.