What Should I Do If I See a Child Alone in a Car?

If you see a child alone in a car, try to find the parents or contact local authorities. Supervision by adults is the best way to keep children safe in most situations, and a locked car is no exception. Children who are left alone in a car are at risk for several dangers, including heatstroke.

Recent news reports about parents being prosecuted and losing custody of children after leaving them in cars has discouraged some people from getting involved if they see a child alone in a car.

While no one wants to unnecessarily cause pain and disruption to a family unit, the safety of children must always be the top concern. To that end, if you observe a child alone in a car and are unable to easily locate the parent or guardian, you should contact the police.

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Kids left alone in cars are at high risk for injury

Calling the police is not an overreaction, especially when you consider that 23 children died of heatstroke after being left in cars in 2021.1 Heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles are completely preventable, which is why contacting emergency personnel is vital if you see a child or baby left alone in a car and can’t find their parent or guardian.

In addition to heatstroke danger, children in cars are also vulnerable to injury—especially if they can move around the car. Children could potentially put a car out of gear, which poses a threat to them and to any people or property nearby.

Many adults feel it is reasonable to leave children in a car if it’s only for a few minutes while they run into a store or shop to conduct an errand, but the risks simply aren’t worth it.

Never ignore a child left alone in a car

When considering whether to contact the authorities, take into account the age of the child or children that have been left unattended in a vehicle. If they are old enough to speak with you, ask them how long they’ve been in the car, and where their parent or guardian went.

In these cases, you can try to find the parent or guardian before contacting the police, as this can be a less traumatic resolution for all involved. However, under no circumstances should you completely ignore a child left alone inside a car.

How this happens and how to prevent it

According to data spanning from 1998 to 2022, about 25% of children who died of heatstroke in cars (also called "pediatric vehicular heatstroke" or PVH) got into the car on their own.1 Prevent this by keeping cars locked at all times and storing keys where kids can't reach them. Make sure kids are supervised and that they know the car is off-limits for play. 

Over half of all kids who died of heatstroke in a car were forgotten by their parents. Use a car seat alarm to remind yourself that your kiddo's in the back. 

Around 20% of PVH deaths happened when a parent intentionally left their child in the car, such as when running errands. Always bring your child with you. 

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Jan Null, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, San Jose State University, NoHeatStroke.org, "Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles," May 2022. Accessed July 26, 2022.

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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