by Sheila Wathen /
We’ve all heard the stories and were stunned. How could a parent forget a child in a car? It seems so impossible, and yet it happens year after year. As of July 21st of this year, 17 children have died from being left in a hot car. SEVENTEEN.
Since 1998, on average, 38 children die each year of heat stroke from being left in a hot vehicle.
According to a fact sheet updated by the Department of Geological Sciences at San Francisco State University, 18% of kids who perished in a hot vehicle were intentionally left there by an adult. The topic of why you would intentionally leave a child alone in a car is quite an issue, but for now I’m not going to address that. Why? Because a bigger reason for children dying of heat stroke in cars—51% of all cases—is because a child was “forgotten” by a caregiver.
Being a parent means you are sometimes exhausted, frustrated, distracted, stressed and in a hurry. All of these factors can combine to create a situation where a parent forgets a child in a hot car. This is especially true if we are distracted by a phone call or text at that crucial time we are arriving somewhere with a child. The question is, what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen to us?
Here are some great tips for forming habits that can help prevent another tragedy:
1) Put something necessary and valuable—purse, phone, briefcase—in the backseat next to the car seat when you get in the car. Make sure you have to really turn around or access the backseat to retrieve it. If you use your phone, it has the added benefit of ensuring you are NOT a distracted driver.
2) Keep a special teddy bear, stuffed animal, or laminated card in your child’s car seat, and always move it to the front seat where you can see it whenever you put your child in the car seat.
3) When traveling with your child, take off your left shoe and put it in the backseat. Sounds extreme, but it works well.
4) Create your own “EZ Baby Saver” like the one invented by an 11-year-old Tennessee boy. It is a simple strap made with duct tape and rubber bands, and you hang it across your car door when you are traveling with your child. It is a great visual reminder and can be stored in the car seat when not in use. OR, support this Albequeurque 17-year-old’s campaign to manufacture a prototype for a special ‘Hot Seat’ alarm, which senses when the driver has moved more than 40 feet away from the child’s car seat.
5) Make an agreement with your partner or an adult friend that you will text or call upon dropping your child off. If this designated person does not hear from you at the agreed-upon time, he or she should call you. Similarly, ask a babysitter or child-care provider to call you immediately if your child does not arrive on time.
If you are a parent, grandparent or child caregiver, please start forming one of these habits. The more common it becomes, the better our chances of lowering that yearly death rate.
Study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics on why heat stroke is such a problem for kids in cars, even in mild temperatures.
Sheila Wathen works as a teacher, webmaster & technology consultant. She loves to help people of all ages discover new ways to use and understand technology. For fun she sings in her church choir, does yoga and researches her family history. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Ohio and Pennsylvania before settling in Lenawee County in 1999 with her husband, Steve. Sheila is proud that her daughter Leah (now in high school!) is a fan of reading, science, computers and languages.