What are some ways to promote infant safety in a car?

Infant Car Seats

Car crashes are the number one killer of children ages 1 to 12 years in the United States.1 Proper use of car seats helps keep children safe. The type of seat your child needs depends on several things, including your child's size and the type of vehicle you have. With so many different car seats on the market, many parents find the job of choosing a car seat to be confusing.2

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a set of guidelines (PDF 1.16 MB) regarding infant car seats. The guidelines are consistent with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about choosing the most appropriate car seat for your child. AAP provides a listing external link of car seats and safety seat manufacturers.

Newer cars and trucks are equipped with the LATCH system for installing child safety seats (LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Special anchors, instead of safety belts, keep the seat safely in place. If your car or safety seat does not use the LATCH system, you will have to use the vehicle's safety belts to secure an appropriate car seat.3

Be sure that everyone who transports your infant uses an approved safety seat that is properly installed—every time.

Hyperthermia and Heat-Related Illness

The term hyperthermia refers to heat-related illness—or those illnesses associated with exposure to high temperatures in the environment, causing high body temperature.

When the body is exposed to high temperatures, as on a hot day, the body normally cools itself using different mechanisms, such as heavy sweating and losing heat through the skin. But in certain situations, such as when a person is inside a parked car when it is warm or sunny, sweating and other mechanisms may not be enough to cool high body heat. As a result, the body's temperature rises quickly and may damage the brain and other organs in the body. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hyperthermia occurs when the body heats up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A body temperature of 107 degrees is usually fatal.

Infants' immature body systems are not able to cope with high temperatures, and infants are not able to communicate if they are too warm. That's why they are at especially high risk of hyperthermia.

According to the AAP, deaths from hyperthermia have increased in the last decade, especially among children and pets, mainly as a result of their being left alone in a car for even short periods of time. Even when the air outside is at "room temperature" (about 72 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature inside a car can increase to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in just 30 minutes. One study showed that on a sunny, 72-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 117 degrees Fahrenheit, and cracking the windows did not decrease the rate of the rise in temperature.4 Thus, even when the weather is comfortable outside, children are at high risk for heat stroke and death from being left alone in a car.

Parents and caregivers should never leave a child alone in a car, not even with the windows down, and not even for a minute. In addition, parents and caregivers should develop plans for getting everyone out of the car to ensure that they all exit the car safely and no one is left in the car accidentally.

If you see a child left alone in a parked car, you should call 911 to request emergency help. It could mean the difference between life and death for that child. For more information, visit the National Weather Service Heat Advisory page or the AAP external link Extreme Temperature Exposure page.


  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Child safety: Is your child in the right car seat? Retrieved August 6, 2012, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/safercargov
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Car seats: Information for families for 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx external link
  3. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2018) Car safety for pregnant women, babies, and children. Retrieved September 2, 2021, from https://www.acog.org/store/products/patient-education/pamphlets/pregnancy/car-safety-for-pregnant-women-babies-and-children external link
  4. McLaren, C., Null, J., & Quinn, J. (2005). Heat stress from enclosed vehicles: Moderate ambient temperatures cause significant temperature rise in enclosed vehicles. Pediatrics,116, e109–e112.
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