It is that time of year, so let us all be careful and save children from an all-too-common tragedy.
Dozens of children die horrible deaths during the warm months of spring, summer and early fall when parents or other caregivers leave them in hot cars. Society should reduce that death statistic to zero.
Last year alone, 58 children died in hot cars. Surveys cited by WebMD say at least 25% of parents have intentionally left a young child alone in a parked vehicle, while 11% admit to having forgotten a child strapped in a car at least briefly.
There is never a good time to leave a young child in a car without an adult. Not even for a moment while buying a stamp or grabbing a gallon of milk from the store. Cars heat up to deadly temperatures quickly, even in the shade and on days the temperatures seem unseasonably cool.
“When temperatures outside range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172” degrees, reports heatkills.org.
The adult brain works in strange and complicated ways. Someone intending to mail a letter can lose track of 20 minutes or more if distracted by an acquaintance, an interesting brochure or almost anything else.
Some child-in-car deaths occur when someone forgets to deliver a child to day care on the way to work or forgets to remove a child from the car upon returning home from any car trip. Each year, parents and caregivers allow hours to go by before remembering a child strapped in a car. We hear these stories routinely each summer, every year.
“Such tragedies are often a failure of ‘prospective memory’ -- remembering to do something in the future,” says University of South Florida Psychologist David Diamond, as quoted by WebMD. “While certain areas of the brain are responsible for making a plan and remembering to execute it, they can be overridden by regions which enable us to go on ‘autopilot’ when we carry out a routine. It’s like when you are driving home from work and have every intention to pick up the groceries, but then you arrive and realize you forgot to stop at the store. In that process of multitasking, the memory of the child in the backseat sometimes gets lost.”
The number of children forgotten in cars began rising in 1998, the magazine reports, after carmakers added airbags to protect front seat passengers. Because an exploding airbag can harm or kill a child in a car seat, safety experts and automakers advise placing children in back seats.
“With no visual reminder of a sleeping toddler behind them, it became easier for parents to forget,” WebMD reports, citing an assistant professor who studies climate and human health at Arizona State University.
The magazine advises drivers with a child or children in the back to leave something in the front seat, such as a diaper bag or stuffed animal, as a reminder. At least eight mobile phone apps remind drivers of a child in the rear seat upon arrival at a planned destination.
“Another idea,” says WebMD, “place something essential like your house keys or purse or briefcase, in the back seat with the child.”