I just love summer. Every year, I buy some petunias and zinnias for a pop of color around the house. Every year I forget to water at least one plant and it dies. Every year we spend many nights sitting on the deck, drinking Summer ale and talking about nonsense. Every year we go to outdoor concerts and local festivals. Every year we eat a lot of ice cream. Every year we take long walks and frequent the park.
Every year I hear about a baby dying after being forgotten in a hot car. Every year I hear judgmental comments from other parents who could “never” do such a thing, could never be so forgetful, so negligent. Every year people ask, “Who could do such a thing? Who could forget a child in a hot car?”
Every year, I think, “I could.” I’m the type of parent that leaves a child in a hot car. I think you probably could too. In fact, one of the most chilling things about these cases are the parents who respond by saying, “I said the same thing… until it happened to me.”
Usually when children are left in cars, you hear a different version of the same, basic story. Mom usually takes the kid to daycare, but on this day, Dad took the kid to daycare. Grandma doesn’t usually watch the kid on weekdays, but on this day, she did. Parents become so ingrained in these routines of daily life that when there’s a small change, we forget. Just simply forget.
Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post answered the question, “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.
Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.
“No sign of abating.” This surprised me the most. Heatstroke deaths increased ten-fold from the early 90s, when airbags became popular and children who often rode in the front seat moved to the back. The backseat is the safest place for children. Airbags can kill small children. I am not advocating in any way moving your child to front or disabling your airbags. Don’t do that. But, look at this chart.
There are an average of 38 deaths from heat stroke in the United States. From 1998 to now, the numbers have remained pretty static. In 16 years, we have not figured out a way to dramatically decrease these numbers and prevent these deaths.
There have been some technological advances made, but many hurdles stand in the way of their effectiveness. One big hurdle is adopting the technology, like many other safety measures, parents simply don’t think they need it. They’d never forget their kid in the car. It’s a non-issue. According to a study commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, even IF a device known to be 100% effective was installed in 5% of vehicles (a realistic number), it would be effective in less than 15 out of 500 cases.
One father, a business exec from Tennessee, had a motion-detector car alarm installed in his car. During the work day, the alarm went off three times. Each time, he looked outside, didn’t see anyone tampering with the car, manually turned off the alarm, went back to work without any idea that his child was inside the car.
Personally, I think the best way to prevent these tragedies is to incorporate prevention into your routine. First of all, I think every parent should accept that this could happen to them. I’m not trying to be a fear-monger and I’m not saying it’s probable, but I am saying it’s possible. Think of your own routine and how you can personally prevent tragedy from happening. Adjust mirrors so you can see the baby in your rearview. Check in with your spouse after a daycare drop-off. Put your purse or briefcase in the backseat. Think about how you, personally, could forget the child in the car and then the best way for you, personally, to prevent it.
I found a set of vinyl cling stickers I really like and think would work well. The set is less than 10 bucks, including shipping and handling, and has enough stickers for two vehicles. I like these because you can stick them on your instrument panel, the inside of driver’s window and the outside of car. So every time you leave the car, there’s the reminder: Always check. You can buy them at http://www.babysafetystickers.com
Most children die from heatstroke because the caregiver forgot them. The second most common cause of heatstroke death is from the child playing in an unattended vehicle, (29 percent). I found this statistic surprising because I rarely hear about these deaths in the news and it’s just something that never really crossed my mind. I live in a quiet neighborhood and although I always lock the doors to my house, I often don’t lock the doors to my car. Now I will. It’s important to teach your children that the car is not a play area and to keep the doors locked. If your child is missing, always check the pool first if you have one and then the car, including the trunk.
I’m a big advocate of letting parents make their own decisions and I don’t believe it’s anyone’s business if you formula feed, give your kid pixy-sticks, whatever. But if you see a child in danger, you should make it your business and step in. If you see a child, unattended, in a hot car, call 911. It may be a mild, early autumn day. The parent may have stepped in the store for a few minutes. The parent may have completely forgot the child. It doesn’t matter. Temperatures rise quickly and that child is in danger. You can help. Call 911.
Also, don’t be an asshole. If a parent forgets their child and now has to cope with the unimaginable grief and guilt of the death of that child, the last thing they need to hear is a bunch of strangers claiming the death is due to their bad parenting and these strangers are completely incapable of making such a mistake. Accidents happen. Show a little empathy, a little compassion and do everything you can to prevent it from happening to you.