"This could never happen to me" is the most dangerous mindset one can have.
For many, it seems incomprehensible that parents could leave a child in a car and then go about their daily activities, as their child dies of hyperthermia in a car that reaches scorching temperatures.
Canada has already experienced its first death of this kind this year, while the toll has reached 18 in the U.S. for 2019*, with the 16th, 17th and 18th having occurred in the past 5 days. In 2018, a record breaking 52 children died after being left in a hot vehicle in the U.S.** With a little education and increased awareness this epidemic is one that can be prevented.
Babies and young children are not able to regulate their internal body temperatures well - warming at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult - especially in a car, where the windows create a greenhouse effect. In fact, 80% of the increase in temperature happens in the first 10 minutes. And despite popular belief, cracking a window open does little to no good. That tiny bit of air can’t begin to offset the heat that is absorbed by a car’s seats, dashboard, and upholstery. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 52ºC in just minutes. Heatstroke, or hyperthermia, occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches 40.5ºC (105º F).
How does it happen? Good question. The type of memory failure at the root of what’s been dubbed Fatal Distraction is the result of competing brain systems. Specifically, a competition between the brain’s “habit memory” system and its “prospective memory” system whereby the habit memory system takes over and suppresses the prospective memory system. The brain is on auto‐pilot, doing what it normally would do, not accounting for changes in routine. This is only exacerbated with the introduction of fatigue. In the end, our flawed prospective memory puts those we love at risk. This is especially true when we assume that precautions are not necessary because such tragedies can only happen to negligent parents. The evidence is clear that this assumption is wrong.
FACT: parents who have forgotten babies in hot cars came from every socioeconomic, age, intelligence and education group, and mothers are just as likely as fathers to forget their children.
So, how do we stop this tragedy? The first step is to accept that all humans are subject to the same forgetfulness, and that loving and attentive parents can unintentionally leave their children in cars. If you have the capacity to forget your cellphone, you can potentially forget a child. Yes, even you. And even me.
It’s that simple change in routine that can have disastrous and deadly consequences. All it takes is one small change to completely throw your brain, and you, off course.
The good news is that this particular tragedy is preventable. By adding one more step to your routine we can work towards ending this epidemic. Put safeguards in place and create simple habits to help keep your child safe.
Here are some easy tips to help protect yourself against leaving your child in a hot car (yes, you):
Make it a habit to open the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind.
Take a stroll around your vehicle every time you park - LOOK Before You LOCK.
Arrange for your child care provider to call if a drop-off doesn’t happen as scheduled.
Leave a significant personal item such as your phone or purse (an item that you can’t start your day without) next to your child and allow this to act as a reminder to open the back door.
Communicate with your spouse/partner and ensure that you always touch base with each other to confirm that a drop-off has occurred as scheduled.
Take extra care when your routine changes, such as when you take a different route or when someone else is driving your child. Communicate with your spouse/partner to make sure your child made it to his or her destination if you aren't driving.
Use the technology available - download one of the apps available with a car-reminder feature including the Kars 4 Kids Safety App, Waze Child Reminder, and The BackSeat App. Child Restraint manufacturers are following suit and integrating child reminder technology into their seats. Child Restraint and stroller manufacturer Evenflo/Cybex has introduced “SensorSafe” technology and integrated it into the seat’s chest clip. This clip connects to a parent/caregiver’s cell phone and will send a series of alerts to the phone, including notification if a child has been left alone in a vehicle.
Additional safeguards for older children include:
Keep your vacant vehicle(s) locked at all times, and ask your neighbours and visitors to do the same. Children can climb into unlocked vehicles and are at risk of accidentally locking themselves in.
Keep car keys out of reach and in a safe place.
Teach your children that cars are not safe play spaces, and that they are off-limits for games such as hide-and-seek.
Teach your children to honk the horn if they ever become stuck inside a vehicle.
Vehicular heatstroke deaths are on the rise and it is up to everyone to stop this trend. It only takes seconds to check your backseat before you leave your car. It could be a lifetime of regret if you don’t. LOOK Before You LOCK.
Here are four examples of technology designed to keep parents from forgetting their children in their vehicles:
The Kars 4 Kids Safety App is designed to remind the driver when there’s a little one in the vehicle’s backseat. The Bluetooth compatible app sets off a notification alarm when a driver leaves the car, reminding the driver to check the backseat and LOOK Before You LOCK.
The Waze Child Reminder was added to the traffic navigation company’s app in 2016. The app will send a “check your car before you leave” notification to the driver once he/she has completed a trip. This opt-in function can be activated through the “General Settings” section of the app. This app is available free for both iOS and Android.
The BackSeat App, designed by Arizona father Erin J. O’Connor, is another option. Parents must designate a “trip start” speed that will activate the app each time you drive and allow parents to register when a child is present in the vehicle. Once the trip is completed, the BackSeat App will remind the parent to check the back seat via a notification sent to the driver. The BackSeat also offers a sleep function, allowing parents to set the app to snooze until the next drive.