August 27, 2014

23 “Hot Car” Deaths this Year. ~ Heidi Redlitz

sleeping baby

It’s summer, and you’re busy planning an end-of-summer road trip, doing back-to-school shopping with your kids, and going about your daily errands.

Hurried and distracted, you run into the store and realize at the checkout counter that you left your wallet in the car. Great, you think. One more glitch in my day.

We’ve all forgotten keys, wallets, and purses in the car. But are we so busy, distracted and overwhelmed that we’d also leave behind our most precious cargo—our own child?

Sadly, hundreds of parents have made this tragic mistake. And these momentary memory lapses have had horrifying consequences.

Every year, an average of 38 children die from vehicle-induced heat stroke, or “hyperthermia,” after being left alone in a hot car. So far this year, there have been 23 hot car deaths.

Ironically, the catalyst for the increase in hot car deaths was an item that was supposed to keep our children safe. These horrific accidents were rare until the early ‘90s, when car-safety experts recommended that children sit in the back seat of a car, because passenger-side front airbags were too dangerous for kids. Since then, the number of hot car deaths has increased tenfold.

How does something like this happen to “normal” families and parents?

The sad reality is that about half of these incidents happened because the child was simply “forgotten” by their caretaker. Maybe a parent or guardian was rushing to work and forgot to drop off their child at daycare, or they assumed a spouse had taken the child out of the car, or they were running late, and they simply forgot to check the backseat.

“Memory is a machine, and it is not flawless,” said David Diamond, a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida. “Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”

Janette Fennell is the founder of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child deaths in or around motor vehicles. The organization also has a support group for parents who’ve lost a child due to hyperthermia after leaving him or her in the car.

She told ABC News, “At least a portion of why this is happening is because the kids are out of sight and out of mind. They’re in a rear-facing car seat. Most of them are under one. Parents that first year are so sleep-deprived. Add all these things together, and it really is a recipe for disaster.”

Being a parent is a constant learning experience that makes you hyper-aware of everyday situations that could endanger your child. Especially while driving, you fasten seat belts, secure car seats, and are on the lookout for reckless drivers. Despite taking so many precautions, you’ll still make mistakes. Everyone does. But leaving a child in a car is an avoidable (and inexcusable) one.

Check out this infographic from Instant Checkmate to learn more about how you can prevent a hot car death from happening to your child.

baby left in hot car

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s Own, Thomas Kholer/Flickr

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Heidi Redlitz