This post previously appeared on Care2.com, but I'm reposting it here as we re-enter the period of warmer weather. Each year, tragically, this issue comes up again. Be aware and be prepared.
Safe Kids USA shared a sad milestone three years ago in June 2011. The number of children to die from heat stroke after being left alone in a car had reached 500. In the United States, an average of 38 children die this way each year.
The Danger of Leaving Kids Alone in the Car
According to Safe Kids USA, “heat stroke (also known as hyperthermia) occurs when a body’s thermostat is overleaded with heat; children are at a great risk of this as their body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than adults.”
This Public Safety Announcement from Kids and Cars warns parents of the danger of forgetting your child.
Are Rearfacing Seats To Blame?
Car safety experts know that it is safest for babies and small children to be in a rear-facing seat in the car. In the event of a crash, they are best protected that way. In March 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its car seat recommendations. The new policy recommends that children remain rear-facing until the age of 2, unless they reach the maximum height and weight of the car seat at an earlier age.
Dr. Dennis Durbin, the lead author on the AAP’s new policy statement, explains that: “A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.” The AAP says that deaths of children in motor vehicle crashes are decreasing, but are still the leading cause of death of children ages four and older.
While experts agree that a rear-facing seat is the best place for the child to be in the case of a collision, some experts are now questioning whether that puts them at a greater risk of being forgotten in a car. According to Parent Central (article no longer available), “the last time experts pushed a new campaign to put more children in rear-facing seats — in the 1990s, to cut the chances of being killed by air bags — the number of children who died in hot cars spiked.” They go on to explain that more children died from being forgotten in cars than from air bags.
It Won’t Happen to Me
Most parents believe this could never happen to them. In a Safe Kids press release, Reggie McKinnon, a father who left his 8 month old in the car when he went to work, was quoted as saying: “Before this accident, every time I would read of a child dying in a parked car of hyperthermia, I too would ask, ‘how could they forget their child?’ I would never do that. That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug-addicts, not me.”
Parent Central (link no longer available) reported that it is often parents who are tired, distracted, stressed or who have made changes to their routine who end up forgetting a child in the car. It can be a costly mistake. These parents not only lose their baby, but they are also often perceived as monsters and sometimes even charged with manslaughter and child abuse.
What Can Parents Do?
Although the concern about rear-facing seats is understandable, I don’t think that the solution to one safety problem needs to come from ignoring another safety issue. If parents want to keep their children as safe as possible in the car, but also remember to take them out when they get to their destination, what can they do?
Parent Central also reported that there are companies developing technical solutions to help parents remember that their child is in the backseat. This includes simpler solutions like playing “Twinkle Twinkle” when the car stops as well as more technically advanced ones that would sound an alarm if a child is left in the backseat.
Other parents have developed their own approaches, such as leaving their purse in the back seat below the car seat so that they have to look in the back to get it out.
When our children were rearfacing, we used a child mirror that allowed us to see them whenever we looked in the rear view mirror. For a driver following normal safety precautions and looking in the rear view mirror regularly, this means that there would be a constant reminder that the child is there. While we didn’t purchase the mirror specifically to ensure that we never forgot the baby, I’m sure that having it did contribute to remembering that the baby was there.
What do you do?
What do you do to help ensure that you won’t forget your baby or toddler in the car?