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Your 4-year-old is watching her favorite movie for the 57th time. You tell her that you’re going to take a quick shower before you take her to story time at the library. Fifteen minutes later, you’re showered and getting dressed. You hear the movie still playing and you assume that she’s where you left her in front of the TV. Five minutes later you discover she isn’t where you thought she was. You look in her bedroom and check the kitchen. She’s not there. You yell her name as you move quickly through the rest of the house but don’t find her. Starting to panic, you check the backyard and the pool but no sign of her. You are now screaming her name but get no response. You rush outside and look up and down the street, but no sign of her anywhere. Where is your child??? Then it hits you, check your vehicles in the driveway!

When you find your daughter in the minivan with the doors closed, she’s hot, disoriented and breathing rapidly—but she’s alive. You run her into the cool house and call 911. The EMS responders who arrive on scene recognize that your child is suffering from heatstroke, and take measures to start cooling her internal body temperature. She is rushed to the nearest pediatric emergency department where she will spend the next 24 hours. Your child is going to recover from this nearly tragic incident but what happened and how can you prevent this from happening to someone else’s child?

What you didn’t realize was that while you were showering, your daughter decided that she wanted her Shopkins that she left in the minivan yesterday. She knew exactly where she’d left them and she knew the key fob with your vehicle key was on the kitchen counter where you always put the keys. She took your keys, went to the driveway and opened the sliding door to the van. When she climbed in, she hit the button to close the sliding door because that’s what she’s seen you do. She found all 12 of her Shopkins and started playing with them. After a few minutes, she began to feel hot but kept playing. Another few minutes passed and the heat really started to get to her but by now she was upset and disoriented. She started to cry. She didn’t remember how to get out. A few more minutes passed and you finally found her.

Every year this scenario plays out across the country with slightly different variables. It could be a large family gathering and all the cousins are playing hide and seek. It could be early Sunday morning and your 2-year-old wakes up before everyone else and decides that he needs that half-eaten lollipop that he left in the cupholder of his carseat yesterday. There are so many paths to these types of tragedies but they all have certain commonalities. In each case, the child is able to gain access to a vehicle without supervision. Sometimes the vehicle is unlocked (who locks their vehicle when it’s parked in the garage?), other times the child is smart enough to know how to unlock the vehicle and open the door. Minivans with automatic sliding doors are especially easy for young children to access with a key fob. You may not even realize that your child knows how to do this!

What can you do to prevent these types of tragedies?

1. Always keep your parked vehicle locked, even if it’s in the garage.

2. Keep your car keys/fob out of the reach of small children.

3. Teach your children to never hide or play in a vehicle or the trunk of a car.

4. Teach your children to never go inside a vehicle to get something without a grownup.

5. You can also teach your child to blow the horn repeatedly to attract attention if they are ever trapped in a vehicle.