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Look Before You Lock

August 20, 2012

Last summer, after I took my kids to see the pediatrician for their regular check-up, I’ll never forget what my doctor told me at the end of the appointment. My pediatrician said, “Please remember to have your car keys in your hand every time you get out of the car.” I nodded and knew what she meant. We all hear about kids who’ve been locked in cars that become very sick, or even die from heat stroke.

Sure enough, one week later I heard my doctor’s words over and over in my head. My kids were in their car seats in the back of the car, I pulled into our garage, opened and closed my door, pulled the rear passenger door handle, and it would not open. I was in denial – this cannot be happening to me. I ran to the other door, checked all the doors, and my car was completely locked. And my key was not where my doctor told me to keep it; it was sitting on the console on the inside of my car.

My heart sank and I started to panic, but I was desperately trying not to let that show to my kids. Both of my kids, still strapped in their car seats, just stared at me. I’m sure they wondered “why isn’t Mommy taking us out of the car?” I tried to sing songs with them to keep them distracted as I contemplated which window to break to get them out, but halfway into the first song they began crying hysterically. My 2-year-old son started kicking furiously, and I saw that his foot could reach the power lock. I begged him to use his shoe to hit that button and unlock the car. Through his tears, he nodded and kicked the button to unlock all of the doors. I exhaled a huge sigh of relief, and was thankful that we were in our garage and not in a parking lot on a hot day.

Last year, 33 children died of heat stroke after being forgotten in a car.  Since 1998, approximately 38 children have died every year of vehicular heat stroke (that’s one death about every 10 days). Eighty-seven percent (87%) of these children are under the age of 3 years old. As parents, we think to ourselves – how can this possibly happen to children?

A child’s body temperature rises much faster than an adult’s. Even with the windows open, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 125 degrees in a few minutes. Most parents think that they would never forget their own child in a car. The biggest mistake is to think that it cannot happen to your own family. I made this mistake, and my kids ended up accidentally locked in my own car the following week!

Let’s face it, we as parents, are multi-taskers. Our lives are made up of daily routines and distractions. When you read the tragic stories about children who have died from vehicular heat stroke, one of the most common aspects of their stories is that a change in the family’s usual routine took place or a distraction occurred. An example is when the parent or caregiver who doesn’t usually do the day care drop-off starts thinking about work while driving, and forgets to actually take the baby to day care. The baby falls asleep in the car and becomes quiet. Or a parent gets a cell phone call, becomes distracted, and drives past the turn for the day care. The baby is locked in the car all day and not noticed until the parent goes to pick the baby up from day care, only to be told that the baby was never in day care that day. Then the horrible truth is realized.

In over half of these deaths, the parent or caregiver who was responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left the child in the car. Older children may climb into a parked car, and accidentally lock themselves in. About one-third of vehicular stroke deaths happen this way.

Our memories are not flawless. Here are some safety tips from to remember:

  • Never leave children alone in or around cars, not even for one minute
  • Put something that you will need after you leave the car in your back seat (example: cell phone, purse, brief case, employee ID)
  • Make a habit of always opening the back door of your car and looking in the back seat after you have reached your destination – Look before you lock!
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in the car seat when it isn’t occupied. When your child is in the car seat, move the stuffed animal to the front seat. It is a visual reminder that your child is in the car seat
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times
  • Make arrangements with your child’s day care or baby sitter to always call you if your child does not show up on a particular day as scheduled
  • If you see a child alone in a car, get involved! If the child seems hot or sick, get them out immediately and call 911
I feel guilty for making the mistake of not having my keys in my hand after getting out of my car. I am blessed and thankful that my children were not hurt because of my mistake. To this day, I’m not completely sure how my car doors locked after I closed my own door. I suspect that my son’s foot, the same one that unlocked the doors, probably kicked the button to lock the doors after I got out of the car.

One thing is for sure, though- now I always have my car key in my hand when I get out of the car!

For more information on car safety, visit: