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Go Ask Mom

Look before you lock: Tips to prevent child hot car deaths

Posted June 7

Hot cars and kids. A new report says that North Carolina ranks No. 6 in the country for the number of deaths since 1991 that have occurred when a child was left in a hot car.

Between 1991 and 2016, there were 32 documented deaths in North Carolina, but, says, the group that gathered the data, this is likely low as states don't track numbers specifically for hot car deaths, according to the story.

There are certainly examples where a child was left on purpose in a hot car. Last year, a Georgia father was sentenced to life in prison for the death of his toddler son. Prosecutors said that the father had left him to die so he could pursue relationships with prostitutes and women that he met online, according to an NBC News story.

But in other cases, it's simply a tragic accident, as Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten reported in his award-winning story, "Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?"

In 2009, I read the story, which shares the experience of several families, when my older child had just turned four and I was pregnant with my younger daughter. Afterwards, I remember running out to my car, on more than one occasion, terrified that I hadn't actually dropped my older child off at preschool before I went to work. (I had every single time. And, admittedly, at that point she would have been able to get herself out of the car on her own).

As Weingarten writes: “When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just... forgets a child is in the car."

Before the early 1990s, this didn't happen often, he reported. But, that changed when car safety experts recommended child seats move to the backseat because of safety concerns about passenger-side front airbags. Then, experts recommended infant seats turn to be rear facing so parents couldn't see their little ones in the rear view mirror.

"If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them?," he wrote. "What kind of person forgets a baby?"

The answer: More than you would think, according to Weingarten's story, and it's often a horrible accident. I know. It's incomprehensible for the vast majority of us that any parent or caregiver could leave a child to die a horrible death in the backseat of a hot car. It's unimaginable.

But, as Weingarten writes: "The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them."

Since the 2009 story, as anybody who reads the headlines knows, hot car deaths have continued. In fact, a report in September said that the number of deaths was double what it had been the previous year. This week, advocates are in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the Hot Car Act of 2017, bi-partisan legislation that would require that car makers include technology to notify drivers if a child is left in the backseat.

To save kids today, however, a good way to prevent these deaths is to follow tips from the Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Here's what the agency recommends parents and caregivers do to keep kids safe:

Make it part of your everyday routine to account for all children in your care. Set up backup systems to check and double check that no child is left in the vehicle. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle — even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running with the air conditioning on. Vehicles heat up quickly; if the outside temperature is in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down 2 inches.

Always make a habit of looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away. Get in touch with designated family members if a child who is regularly in your care does not arrive as expected.

Create reminders to ensure that no child is accidentally left behind in the vehicle. Place an item that is needed at your final destination, such as your purse or phone or briefcase, in the back of the vehicle next to the child or place a stuffed animal in the driver’s view to indicate that a child is in the car seat.

Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if you see a child alone in a hot vehicle. If he or she is in distress due to heat, get the child out as soon as possible and cool him or her down rapidly.


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  • Sarah Hall Jun 7, 6:08 p.m.
    user avatar

    Bill - that's a great tip. Thank you!


  • Bill Gibson Jun 7, 3:49 p.m.
    user avatar

    Tag Mini Proximity Sensor
    There appear to be a bunch of cheap proximity sensors, some that work with smart phones to notify you when you are walking out of range of an item. About $7 for some of these. Place one on the car seat, or diaper bag so that you are forced to get it before you leave the vehicle and that should remind you.

  • Wayne Hill Jun 7, 3:44 p.m.
    user avatar

    Tip number one, remember you have a child. Sheesh!