Summer means a lot of things, including kids with too much time on their hands, the very real possibility of maybe getting to the beach at some point and a rapid increase in the total amount of hot dogs and sugary Popsicles consumed.
Unfortunately as the summer heats up and drags on, we become more and more likely to see an increase in the number of kids left in hot cars on scorching days. Sometimes this will end in tragedy, and other times it will end in a close call. Too close for comfort. That’s what happened with one 7-year-old boy in D.C. when the driver responsible for getting him back and forth to school accidentally left him on the bus in the summer sun.
Despite having both an adult bus attendant and a bus driver on board, the little boy, who had fallen asleep en route to his school, was left behind when the other children vacated the bus, leading to a phone call to his mother when teachers noted his absence from class.
The boy, whose name is Antonio, woke up about an hour later, disoriented and panicked, and told a local news outlet that at first he thought he was going to die. That was when he pried open the doors and managed to get to safety, and when a helpful passerby saw Antonio wandering around the parking lot, they walked him to school. His mother was informed — three hours after her son boarded a bus to school — that Antonio had finally made it to class.
It’s easy to understand why Antonio’s mother, Arnise Grinage, is so upset by the events that unfolded between the bus stop and when her son made an appearance in his classroom. She rightly told reporters that if her son had not woken up or had been unable to open the bus doors, he may have died.
We often think of hot car deaths as they relate to the very smallest people among us. Tiny infants or young toddlers who are left behind by sleep-deprived, stressed-out parents, without a way to call for help or to help themselves. But hot cars aren’t dangerous just for babies and toddlers — they are dangerous for everyone and can become dangerous fast for older kids and adults alike.
Take James Rogers, a 72-year-old man who died last year when the Corvette he had just purchased lost power. He had no idea how to unlock the door from the inside since the model he bought has no interior door handles, and was found hours later in the car along with his dog, who also died in the heat. There’s also the sad story of 14-year-old Graciela Martinez, who, like Antonio, fell asleep in the car her brother was driving on the way to school. With no way to unlock the 1997 BMW coupe she was in without a key, she too passed away from heatstroke.
If your children are older, like Graciela and Antonio, it is especially important to talk to them about how to get out of a hot vehicle before the temperature reaches a dangerous level. Now, most cars are easily unlocked from the inside even without power, but older car models and certain luxury cars may not be as easy to get out of.
As parents, make sure that you yourself know how interior locking mechanisms work. In Graciela’s case, there was no workaround — the older model had no way to be unlocked, but because the car was purchased used, her parents didn’t know that. The owner’s manual was long gone. If your car is older, make sure you know what the owner’s manual says about this type of situation; many owner’s manuals are available online.
Once you’re sure what to do in the event of an accidental lock-in, make sure your kids know. You can have them look at the owner’s manual too, or even do a practice run with you close by to ensure that if they are accidentally left behind in the family car, they have a way of getting out easily, without panicking.
Finally, make sure your children know that a hot car is an emergency. If they become trapped on a bus like Antonio was, you can make it clear that it’s OK to pull the emergency lever and escape the bus that way as well as to pry open the doors. Above all, teach them to stay calm, just as you would in any emergency.
Antonio wasn’t just lucky; he had to have been very brave to get himself out of a bad situation like that one with a clear head. Do you know for sure if your kid could do the same?
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