At the news of another hot car death in the United States, my heart is broken and I realize that I must share our hot car safety lesson, no matter how controversial it might seem. This lesson about playing in parked cars will save your child’s life.
Wrestling with a heaping laundry basket, I walked into our master bedroom just in time to hear the door close on my van that was parked just outside the bedroom window. My husband casually walked into the room behind me.
“Did you get something from the van?,” I asked.
He looked at me puzzled and immediately I knew.
Our house is like a clubhouse of sorts for all the children in the neighborhood. On this hot summer day, the children were playing a game of Hide and Seek.
In sock-covered feet, I skidded to the front door as quickly as I could and wrenched it open just in time to see a little head inside the van duck down out of sight.
The fear that crawled my spine was worse than I had ever felt watching a suspense movie. I knew that this could have been a disaster.
As I opened the van door and forced the children out, their foreheads were shiny with sweat.
“Inside the van is NOT a hiding place,” I barked.
And the idea popped into my brain to seize this opportunity to teach about hot car safety.
Hot Car Deaths
Each summer, the tragic news is repeated time and again. Infants, toddlers, and children die in parked vehicles. Some cases are due to negligence. Other instances are due to the overwhelming curiosity children have about cars, trucks, and vans.
Children grow up playing with toy cars, trucks, trains. Tiny versions of the real thing. But could these toys lower inhibitions in our kids?
I don’t want my children to fear automobiles, but I want them to be VERY aware of the dangers even when the car is parked in our driveway.
- It only takes 10 minutes for the internal temperature of a car to surpass the external temperature by 20 degrees or more, even with the window cracked. [Source]
- 28% of hot car deaths were due to a child playing in an unattended vehicle. [Source]
- Children who have died in hot cars range from 5 days old to 14 years old. [Source]
Real cars are not toys. They are not hiding places for games. Real cars are dangerous.
Teaching Children about Hot Cars
After explaining how dangerous playing in a hot car can be, I taught my children about the locking system in the car doors. We locked and unlocked the doors several times.
Next, we practiced opening and closing the doors to the van. All of them. From the inside. Both using the automatic feature and manually.
The children were starting to whine, feeling like this was a dumb exercise, but I wanted to be sure that should they accidentally get locked in a parked car they could get out.
Then, the hardest part… teaching the children to use the horn.
My children HATE loud noises. (Strange since their voices can rise to excruciating levels for this mom’s ears, but let’s continue…) None of them wanted to honk the horn. And by “honk,” I made them lay on the horn and push it long and hard. Several times. I wanted to be sure that if they could not get out of a locked car that they could get the attention of someone who could help.
What I did next might surprise you, but I want you to understand that I was standing in the driveway as we practiced the next part.
With their new knowledge, I placed each child (one at a time) inside the car with the doors locked but the windows open and made them get out on their own. If the child could not get the door open, they had to use the horn.
My youngest took the longest as she struggled to open the door and refused to push the horn, but I was firm. After she gave a small toot, I quickly rescued her. The total time lapsed was less than three minutes – and the windows were all the way down. She was never in any danger.
The Hot Car Lesson
I want to challenge you to recreate this parked car safety lesson with your own children. If they are old enough to stand and take instructions, they are old enough to learn how to save themselves from a hazardous situation.
- Teach your child how to unlock a car door.
- Test your child to see if he or she can open a closed door from the inside (both manually and automatically).
- Show your child how to climb into the front seat and honk the horn. Make sure your child can honk the horn several times.
I don’t expect you to lock your child in a car and make them get out alone. It caused me a lot of anxiety watching them go through the steps… but I have a peace knowing that they can do it.
Need a hot car safety lesson plan?
I never would have imagined my children would play inside our parked van. But they did.
Never assume your child knows that a parked car is dangerous. Teach them hot car safety with this step-by-step lesson including a script for what to say and ALWAYS lock your doors when your vehicle is parked.
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