Every year, an average of 37 children die due to being trapped inside a hot car. Since 1998, there have been a total of 761 children that have been victims of vehicular heat stroke due to distracted parents. In 2018 alone, there have been 18 deaths around the United States that have been caused by heat-related illnesses involving car seats.
With summer beginning, it is important to understand how quickly a vehicle can skyrocket in temperature from the sun alone. For example, when the temperature is at 70, a hot vehicle in an open parking lot can easily get up to 90 degrees within 10 minutes. Imagine how hot a vehicle can get if the temperature rises to 90 or 100, which is common during the summer, especially in Texas.
The number of heat stroke deaths of children in the United States has remained the same since 1988. More than 70 percent of heat stroke deaths occur in children 2 and younger, and more than half of those due to caregivers forgetting the child is in the car. After recent studies by professionals, such as professor David Diamond of the University of South Florida, believe these situations occur due to parents having “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.”
Diamond spoke with The Washington Post about his findings, explaining how our memory is a non-stop machine. He explains how our conscious mind prioritizes thing by importance. He compared to how if one is capable of leaving their cell phone, they are potentially capable of forgetting a child. In a way, we can say his findings explain how parents perform on a routine. For example, if a caregiver varies from their “normal” routine, their cognitive brain can forget there the child is in the back, due to the habit of not having them there daily. This symptom can is commonly caused by fatigue and stress.
Although this is no excuse to leave a child unattended, unfortunately, it happens more often than it should. Which is why one should always make sure and check their backseat when it comes to turning off the car.
Are there consequences for leaving a child unattended?
It really depends on the situation. According to noheatstroke.org, 21 states currently have Unattended Child in Vehicle Laws that have specific language addressing leaving a child in a car. For example, Wisconsin and Alabama laws apply to paid child care providers. Missouri and Kentucky apply if a child dies or is injured inside a vehicle. Florida, Illinois, Hawaii and Texas allows a period of time a child can be left unattended before it becomes a crime. Washington law applies to a running wheel of parked vehicle outside an establishment, and Road Island allows for a verbal warning and no record can be kept. The remaining 29 states do not has specific laws against leaving a child, but injuries and death can be prosecuted under manslaughter, homicide status, and child endangerment.
What can we do to avoid situations like these? Here are some safety tips:
- Look before you lock and walk away. In this case, young children are at greater risk, due to them falling asleep in the vehicle. One might forget they are there due to them not making noise, which is why it is recommended to double-check.
- Keep an item in the back of your seat where your child’s car seat is, or place an item of importance before leaving. For example, your phone, wallet, or purse.
- If someone else is driving, or your routine has altered, check to make sure your child has arrived safely by making phone call.
- Keep your vehicle locked and keys out of reach of children. If left alone in the vehicle, a child might be tempted to jump in the front, and can start the car by accident.
- If you see a child alone in parked car, call law enforcement immediately.
If you would like more information about safety, you can visit kidsandcars.org, who work with parents and local organization to provide facts and tips about the situation. The organization also raise awareness throughout the year, focusing on tragedies and education to create child safety campaigns to prevent injury and death.