I remember when my first-born was still tiny but had grown too big for a portable infant-safety seat. Moving her to a rear-facing convertible seat meant no more waltzing into the coffee shop or the grocery story with my baby napping snugly in the infant carrier. (OK, anyone who's carried one of those knows there's no waltzing going on.) I was pinned down.
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More than a few parents have been tempted to leave their babies in the car while running into a coffee shop, but the reality is grim: 126 children died in 2013 in non-traffic-related automotive incidents. That includes heat stroke as well as falls from open windows, power-window strangulations, vehicles being set in motion by a child left in a car, backovers and frontovers.
Summer (and in some places spring) is that time of year when kids are out of school and running around with us, as well as the time when temperatures begin to soar. A San Francisco State University study found that, on a warm day, a car's interior temperature can increase an average of 19 degrees in just 10 minutes once the engine is turned off; the high potential of something horrendous happening should be enough to keep any parent from leaving kids in the car, but it still happens, both by choice and by accident.
Don't be an example. Despite the inconvenience, never leave your kids alone in the car, not even for a quick errand like picking up the dry cleaning or running into the store for a prescription. Use a drive-through ATM, coffee joint, pharmacy or restaurant, even if it's out of the way or costs an extra couple of bucks. Your child's life is worth it.
Parents who have lost a child due to a non-traffic-related automotive incident shouldn't be judged as bad parents. The sad truth is that these tragedies could happen to any of us. The majority of these accidents happen with children younger than 1 year old who are in rear-facing child-safety seats. The parents are often sleep-deprived, and they jump out of the car and head to work, unaware of the quietly sleeping child in the back who goes unheard and unseen.
If you think you would never be neglectful enough to accidentally leave your child in a car, think again. This type of tragedy has sadly affected even the most caring, well-informed parents, including people from every socioeconomic background. None of us are immune.
- Make a habit of stashing your purse or briefcase behind the driver's seat. Every time you get out of your car you're forced to open the rear door to get your stuff (and your baby) out before leaving the car.
- Take the scenic route around the back of your car before getting into the driver's seat. This way you'll know if your child is behind the car to pick up a toy or chase a bug.
- Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway, and always set your parking brake.
- Never allow your child to play in a car unattended.
- Keys and/or remote garage-door openers should never be left within reach of children.
- When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
- Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.
- Use drive-through services when available (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.)
- Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.
- Start teaching your children to be vigilant about the white backup lights on cars. Many hybrids and electric cars today start silently, so you can't always rely on listening skills for your kids to know when a car is ready to pull out of a driveway or parking space.
- If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If the child is hot or seems sick, get him or her out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Cars.com contributor Sara Lacey added to this story.