In light of the tragic death of a 4-month-old baby who was left inside a hot car, Mom Logic interviewed Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, a national nonprofit group that advocates for child safety. Roughly 36 infants and children die annually in the US from being trapped in hot cars. 22 children have died already this year.
How can a parent forget their child? “Everyone thinks these parents are bad or strung out on drugs, but parents who’ve lost their kids in these types of accidents include pediatricians, doctors, school principals, lawyers, and NASA engineers,” she says. “For the most part, these are highly educated, extremely loving and doting parents.”
She says these accidents have little do with how good a parent is, and everything to do with how a memory functions—or doesn’t function. “In the early ‘90s, these cases were rare. But then in the mid-‘90s, front passenger airbags were installed in cars and there was a huge campaign to get kids to move to the back seat. An unintended consequence of this was kids dying of hyperthermia in cars—because children were out of sight, out of mind.”
In many of the cases, forgotten children are under the age of 1 in rear-facing car seats. Their parents are not sleeping much, which comes into play. “And in an overwhelming majority of cases, there has been a change in routine,” Fennell explains.
She says the biggest mistake parents can make is thinking this cannot happen to them. “That’s what these parents probably thought, too,” she says. Fennell shares three ways to help prevent these deadly accidents:
1. Starting today, put a teddy bear or stuffed animal in your child’s car seat. When your child is in his or her car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat as a visual reminder your child is in the back seat.
2. Keep your lunch bag, employee badge, or purse in the back seat. That way, you’ll always reach in your back seat or open your back door when you arrive to your destination.
3. Have an ironclad policy with your daycare provider that if your child does not show up, that person will call a provided list of contacts to confirm his or her whereabouts. “In so many cases, if the daycare provider would have called, tragedy could have been averted,” says Fennell.
Kids and Cars is working hard to pass legislation that would require lawmakers to install weight-recognition sensors in cars that would alert parents who’ve left their kids in the back seat. “We won’t give up until it’s passed, because it would save countless lives,” Ferrell concludes.