Hunter, Kate, Dylan, Ava, Bryan. These are just a few of the more than 700 children who have been lost to vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1998. You may read the articles and think that you would never let such a thing happen to your precious child. The parents of these children thought the same thing, and every July, more parents tragically learn that they were wrong when they believed it could never happen to them.
According to the nonprofit website, www.KidsAndCars.org, 55% of these children were “forgotten” by their caregivers. Around 28% died after they climbed into an unlocked car to play, and 13% died after being intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult who, most of the time, wanted to run some child-free errands. While the majority of these victims are under the age of two, children as old as 14 have succumbed to heatstroke when left in a vehicle.
While many caregivers consider it harmless to run an errand while a child is unattended in a vehicle, 20 states have already made it a crime- and more are sure to follow. In one vehicle heating study by San Jose State University, a vehicle with the windows cracked was left out in temperatures between 72 and 96 degrees farenheit. In 10 minutes, the inside temperature of the vehicle rose 19 degrees. In 20 minutes, 29 degrees; in 30 minutes, 34 degrees; and in one hour the temperature rose 43 degrees. This means that if the car is a comfortable 73 degrees when you leave your child in the car with the windows cracked to run into the drug store and pick up your prescription, by the time you come out, the temperature in the car could be between 93 and 102 degrees. No child can sustain such temperatures for long.
Clearly, when a caregiver’s drug or alcohol use is a factor in a child’s heatstroke death, charges will be filed. However, this is only the case in about 7% of heatstroke deaths since 1998. In the remaining cases, charges were filed in 49% of the deaths, with 81% of those resulting in convictions. For caregivers other than parents, such as daycare workers and babysitters, 84% were charged with a crime after the child in their care died of heatstroke, and 96% of those resulted in convictions.
Researchers have studied a phenomenon they are calling ‘Forgotten Baby Syndrome’ that occurs when busy parents are required to vary from their regular routine.
Consider this: have you ever driven home from work and not remembered how you got there? Maybe you couldn’t even remember being stopped at that stop light. Have you ever left for work in the morning with the intention of stopping at the bank or post office, but driven straight to the office instead? These memory lapses happen to everyone.
In cases of ‘Forgotten Baby Syndrome,’ the parent is on “auto pilot,” and their brain actually tells them that they have already dropped the child off at the appropriate place, or indeed, that the child is not with them. Any variation in routine- an emergency call from work, a quarterly meeting, a stop at the store for milk- can cause the parent’s brain to leap right back into their normal routine and forget about the sleeping child in the back seat.
So, what can we do to help put a stop to these tragedies? This summer, make the following suggestions a habit for your family:
NEVER leave a child unattended in a car- even with the windows cracked.
Put something important, such as your purse, your laptop, or even your shoe, in the back seat with your child.
Make a plan with your child’s daycare to have them call you, the other parent, and emergency contacts until they reach someone in the event that your child does not arrive at daycare.
Put a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when they are not in it. When you put the child in the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front seat as a reminder of your precious passenger.
Buy a child safety mirror that attaches to your rearview mirror so you can see the baby at all times.
Place a brightly colored sticky note on your dashboard to remind you to check the backseat every time you exit the vehicle.
Clip a baby toy to your rearview mirror to remind you about the baby in the backseat.
Set an alarm on your phone for the time you will arrive at work to remind you to make sure you have dropped all the children off at daycare. Have it say something simple like, ‘CHECK BACKSEAT!’
Put a sticker over the car lock button on your key remote to remind you to check the backseat every time you lock the car.
Lock your doors when the vehicle is parked to prevent children from getting in the vehicle to play.