Keeping Our Children Safe In and Around the Car

Motor vehicle related injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. The deaths and injuries caused by leaving children unattended in and around vehicles are both predictable and preventable and can be greatly reduced with increased safety awareness.

The worst thing any parent or caregiver can say is “this would never happen to me.” There are far too many tragedies involving children being seriously hurt or killed while left unattended in or around a vehicle. Even the most conscientious parent can make a devastating mistake; children should be supervised at all times and never left alone inside or around a vehicle.

Heatstroke, backovers, and frontovers are the most prevalent non-traffic fatalities involving children age 14 and under. Additional dangers include strangulation in seat belts or power windows, trunk entrapment, as well as injuries caused by accidental and uncontrolled movement of the vehicle.

Remember these dangers are preventable with proper planning and diligent safety practices. Helpful prevention tips and safety resources like those in this blog can mean the difference between life and death.

Always “look before you lock.” Heatstroke is one of the leading causes of death among children.

In just ten minutes the temperature inside a car can rise by over 10 degrees, even when outside temperatures are as low as 60 degrees or the vehicle is in the shade. A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adults and heatstroke begins when a child’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees. A core body temperature of 107 degrees is lethal.


Hear from Reggie McKinnon about how he lost his daughter to heatstroke on March 8, 2010, after she was left in a hot car. He promises to honor Payton by educating others about the risk of heatstroke.

Prevention Tips

  • Look before you lock. Always check back seats of the vehicle before you lock it and walk away.
  • Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.
  • If your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely.
  • Keep your vehicle locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway, to prevent an unattended child from gaining access to the vehicle.
  • Take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle. Call 911 immediately.

Many children are killed or seriously injured in backover incidents. A backover incident typically occurs when a vehicle coming out of a driveway or parking space backs over an unattended child because the driver did not see the child.

Prevention Tips

  • Teach children not to play in or around cars.
  • Always walk around your vehicle to make sure all areas are clear before backing up.
  • Teach children to move away from a vehicle when a driver gets in it or if the car is started.
  • Have children in the area stand to the side of the driveway or sidewalk so you can see them as you are backing out.
  • Make sure to look behind you while backing up in case a child dashes behind your vehicle unexpectedly.
  • Roll down the windows before backing out of your driveway or parking space so that you can hear what is happening outside of your vehicle.
  • Teach your children to keep their toys and bicycles out of the driveway.
  • Because children can move unpredictably, you should actively check your mirrors while backing up.
  • Many newer cars are equipped with detection devices that provide rearview video or warning sounds. Even with this technology, you should still actively walk around your car to make sure children are safely out of the way before departing.

Other Dangers

To prevent these and other injuries, always make the time to carefully supervise your children when in and around the car.

  • POWER WINDOWS: Children can hurt themselves with power windows. Many have been injured when a window closes on their finger, wrist, or hand. Some have been strangled by power windows. This can be prevented by properly restraining children in car seats or seat belts, teaching your child not to play with the window switches, and utilizing the child window lock in your vehicle, when available.
  • SEATBELT ENTANGLEMENT: A child who can reach a seat belt may become entangled if he or she pulls the seat belt all the way out and wraps the belt around his or her head, neck, or waist. To prevent entanglement, always ensure children are properly restrained and teach children that seat belts are not toys. Parents and caregivers should be aware that some seat belts have a retractor that locks if pulled all the way out.
  • TRUNK ENTRAPMENT: Children are naturally inquisitive and often explore their surroundings. Hide and seek can turn deadly if they get trapped in the trunk, where temperatures can rise very quickly, resulting in heatstroke or asphyxiation. Lock your car doors and trunk and be sure keys and remove entry devices are out of sight and reach of children. Always teach your child that trunks and cars are not play areas.
  • VEHICLE ROLLAWAY: While uncommon, some vehicles equipped with a keyless ignition or push-button start feature can roll away when the vehicle has been turned off and not shifted into park. It is essential to always engage your emergency break when you park.

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*** Information courtesy of NJ Safe Passage