It happens to even the most loving parents. A mom puts her child in his car seat in the back seat (because experts have said that’s the safest place) one morning and pulls away from the house. Normally she isn’t the one to take her child to daycare, but because of scheduling conflicts, today’s routine had to be a little different.
But the mind of a busy mom can get preoccupied, and she drives to work instead of daycare. She gets out of her car, locks it and goes into work like usual.
Except it’s not a usual day. And that one decision changes her life forever.
Forgetting a child and leaving him in a hot car to die of heatstroke seems unthinkable. We want to ignore the heartbreaking news stories these events or tell ourselves those parents must be awful, neglectful people.
It helps us rataionalize it could never happen to us. We love our kids. We’d never do something like that.
But even the best parents make mistakes. Lack of sleep, stress and changes to routines are common to parenting. Any of those could cause a lapse in memory.
It happens often enough that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an entire public awareness campaign.
According to the NHTSA, from 1998 to 2013, 316 children died from heat stroke after being “forgotten” by their caregivers and left in cars. That’s around 21 deaths per year. The number rises to around 38, according to KidsAndCars.org, when counting all children who die in cars each year from heat-related deaths.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning article published in The Washington Post a few years ago brought home this point:
What kind of person forgets a baby? The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
Just this week, a man in Georgia was charged with murder after police say he left his toddler son in his SUV for seven hours on Wednesday.
What can you do to prevent it from happening to you and your child? Below are some basic recommendations from the NHTSA and from KidsAndCars.org.
– Place your purse, briefcase, employee badge or other item you need with you on the back seat next to your child in her car seat, so you’ll have to look in the back seat before you leave the car.
-Keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat. Then put it on the front seat as a reminder whenever your child is in his car seat.
– If you’re dropping off your child at daycare and it’s not a normal part of your routine, arrange to call your partner after you drop off the child to help you not forget.
– Ask your daycare provider to call you whenever the child doesn’t show up.
– Set a reminder on your phone or write a note and put it on the car’s dashboard.
A sensor for that
What about technology? Many cars now have sensors for just about everything – including sensors that detect when someone is sitting in the front passenger seat to activate the airbag.
Why couldn’t there be something similar for back seats and car seats?
As it turns out, there are a few.
The makers of the First Years True Fit iAlert C685 car seat, which retails on Amazon.com for $286.46, claim the seat can alert a parent’s smartphone if a child is left unattended, out of the car seat while driving, and provides other reminders and installation help.
According to this article on FireceWireless.com, Verizon Wireless filed a patent in 2013 for a mobile notification system that could detect via a sensor when a child was in a car seat and could send a notification to the caregiver’s mobile device. The system was not yet ready for commercialization, said a Verizon spokesman.
The Childminder Smart Clip System is a clip that can be fastened to a child’s car seat chest clip in a car seat, and will sound an alarm placed on the caregiver’s key ring six seconds after a caregiver walks 15 feet or more from a vehicle.
But these devices may not always work. Another Washington Post article reported that an NHTSA study found sensor devices were to inconsistent and were not reliable enough to be the only countermeasure used to ensure a child isn’t forgotten in a car.
By: Anna Claire Vollers