I read a story in the Washington Post 3 years ago that still haunts me to this day. It is so haunting that I remembered where I read it and could easily find the article. It is a story that won a Pultizer Prize for feature writing. The story, titled "Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?" I read this story before I had children and it still troubled me. Now that I am a parent and know first hand how distractions or fatigue can make you go into "autopilot," I can see how parents can make a "mistake" like forgetting their child in a car. It is one thing to leave your child in a car on purpose (which is unforgivable), like a mother from Danville, California and it is an entirely different story when someone unintentionally forgets their child in the car. Can you imagine the pain, horror and guilt that will accompany a parent for the rest of their life when they discover such a horrible, tragic mistake?
An organization called Kids and Cars is hoping to bring awareness about children and heatstroke when left in a car. They say that, "on average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. Even the best of parents or caregivers can overlook a sleeping baby in a car; and the end result can be injury or even death." So far in 2012, there have already been 7 heat stroke deaths in the US.
Kids left in cars are vulnerable to heat stroke because "a child’s body temperature rises 3‐5 times faster than an adult’s. Even with the windows partially down, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 125 degrees in just minutes. Leaving the windows opened slightly does not significantly slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature attained."
"The most dangerous mistake a parent or caregiver can make is to think it cannot happen to them or their family. In well over 50% of these cases, the person responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left them in the vehicle. It happens to the most loving, protective parents. It has happened to a teacher, pediatrician, dentist, postal clerk, social worker, police officer, nurse, clergyman, electrician, accountant, soldier, assistant principal, and even a rocket scientist. It can happen to anyone."
The following are safety tips provided by Kids and Cars to prevent this tragedy from happening to you.
• Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
• Put something you'll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., on the floor board in the back seat.
• Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit. We call this the “Look Before You Lock” campaign.
• Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that anytime the stuffed animal is up front you know the child is in the back seat in a child safety seat.
• Make arrangements with your child’s day care center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled.
- This is common courtesy and sets a good example that everyone who is involved in the care of your child is informed of their whereabouts on a daily basis. Ask them to phone you if your child doesn't show up when expected. Many children’s lives could have been saved with a telephone call from a concerned child care provider. Give child care providers all your telephone numbers, including that of an extra family member or friend, so they can always confirm the whereabouts of your child.
• Keep vehicles locked at all times; even in the garage or driveway and always set your parking brake.
• Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
• Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.
• When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
• If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
• Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.
• Use drive-thru services when available. (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.)
• Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.