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Summer Car Safety for Kids and Pets

What you'll learn: Car safety tips for your kids and your car


When the temperature outside goes up, busy families head for the car on the way to air-conditioned or watery relief. It’s easy to feel rushed when you’re trying to get out of a hot car before you melt, but don’t let the heat frazzle your safety sensibilities when it comes to your most vulnerable passengers: children and pets.

Summertime safety sense

Don’t leave kids and pets in the car. Don’t leave children or pets in the car while you run inside someplace on an errand, even with the windows cracked. The temperature inside a parked car shoots up nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And let’s all admit it—errands usually end up taking longer than the five or 10 minutes you optimistically estimate. That’s not enough time to keep kids and pets out of danger; don’t risk their health on an errand.

Remind yourself to bring passengers inside. Create a visual reminder to avoid forgetting about a sleeping child in the back seat of the car. This technique will work with pets too.

Place a child’s favorite stuffed animal in the passenger seat as a visual aid. For pets, substitute a leash or squeaky toy. Or, better yet, place your briefcase, purse, or cell phone in the backseat—you’ll be less likely to leave kids or pets behind in the car if you tuck your cell phone into the back seat while you’re driving. Two things are easier to remember to take with you than one. A bonus about the phone—keeping your cell phone out of reach also removes the temptation to text while driving.

The A/C is no solution. Leaving kids in the car with the air conditioner running is against the law now in some states. Additionally, experts advise against leaving pets alone in an air-conditioned car, in case a mechanical failure should leave them with no cooling. If you have an electric car that can power your A/C with the engine turned off and you choose to leave a pet inside, post a sign on your car to let passersby know that your pets are cool and safe, and limit the time you’re gone.

Watch out for sizzling buckles. Hot car seats and seat belt buckles can burn and even blister tender, young skin. When you park and leave the car, cover car seats and seat belt latches and buckles with a blanket to hide them from the sun.

Lock parked cars. Keep parked cars locked so kids can’t get inside while they’re playing and lock themselves in on accident.

Learn to recognize signs of heat distress. Learn the symptoms of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke from a dependable resource, such as MedlinePlus, from the National Institutes of Health. Signs that your pet may be overheating include heavy or rapid panting, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse or seizures.

Beware of hot pavement. Beware of leading your dog across sizzling pavement to get to and from the car. Feel the pavement with your hand or bare foot; if it’s too hot to comfortably hold your hand or foot on it, it’s too hot for your pet to walk on it. Dogs can be so excited about the ride that they don’t clearly show they’re in pain. Don’t risk burned and blistered paw pads!

Lock passenger power window controls. Kids delight in the sense of control they get from opening and closing their own windows in the car, especially when the rushing wind cools down the sweltering back seat. Keep their controls locked and control their windows yourself to prevent pinched fingers, arms, and more. Pets can step on window controls, opening the window enough to risk jumping or falling out, and they can inadvertently close the window on their own heads.

Corral pets in the back. If your dog rides with you more frequently during the summer, consider purchasing an add-on barrier that keeps your pet from climbing or falling into the front seat. Almost every state considers drivers liable for accidents caused by distractions from pets. If your pet is excitable, try a pet harness or crate. Don’t allow dogs to ride in your lap, where they can prevent you from reacting quickly to unexpected situations. It’s important to keep pets safe inside the vehicle rather than in an unprotected, open area like the front seat of your car or the back of a pickup truck.

Get a kid-friendly, pet-friendly car

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