Every year, close to 40 kids in the US die from being left in a hot car.
Over half of these deaths happened when a caregiver forgot their child was in the car. They simply, absolutely forgot. During car seat checks, we caution parents about this danger, and most are quick to respond, "I would never forget my baby."
But we can all think of times when we've forgotten something important. As any new parent knows, sleep deprivation and changes in routine are a part of daily life with a baby or toddler. Couple those with the "autopilot" function of the mammalian brain, and it's easy to see how even the most loving, doting parents in the world can forget a baby. Dad usually takes the baby to daycare, but Dad's sick today, so Mom is going to drop the baby off at daycare. On the way, Mom takes her usual route to work--why wouldn't she? She does the same thing every day. After an 8 hour work day, Mom comes out to the car and realizes she never dropped the baby off at daycare.
And how about the outside temperature? It doesn't have to be hot outside for the inside of a car to reach a deadly temperature. Kids have died in hot cars when the outside temperature is as low as 65 degrees. Kids have died in Texas and in Montana, in Florida and in Minnesota. Children have died in hot cars in almost every one of our 50 states. A child's body heats up 3-5 times faster than an adults. Kids get hot faster, and they can't cool their bodies down as effectively as an adult. Kids then become overwhelmed by the heat and lose consciousness. This can happen in minutes.
Because most cars on the road have driver and passenger airbags, parents have been placing their kids in the backseat, where they are safest. This, in addition to parents keeping babies rear-facing longer, has contributed to an increase in hyperthermia deaths in recent years. It is always safest to have your child in the back seat, and to keep them rear-facing until at least 2 years old--but this can make it easier for parents to forget their babies when they are out of sight and out of mind.
2010 was the worst year on record for hyperthermia deaths-- a staggering 49 lives lost. Here are some tips to help bring that number down to an acceptable level--zero.
- Never leave your baby in the car, even for one minute. We know it's a pain to get a child out of the car, then get them back in and buckled up, but it only takes a minute and could save their life.
- Place your purse, cellphone, or briefcase in the back seat. It will help remind you to look in the back seat.
- Ask your daycare provider to notify you if your child doesn't arrive at their usual time.
- Set a daily reminder on Outlook, your cellphone, or your blackberry to ask "Did you drop Suzie off at daycare?"
- If your child is ever missing, check the pool first (if you have one) and then the car. Make sure to check the trunk as well.
- Always lock your car doors. Even if you're out in the middle of nowhere, and you're not worried about someone stealing your iPod, a child could still gain access to your car and not be able to get out.
- Make sure to "Look before you Lock." This is a Kids And Cars campaign, reminding parents to always open the backdoor and check for kids before you lock the doors. Make it a part of your routine, every time--even if you know you drove alone.
Please check out these sites if you'd like more information on hyperthermia dangers and how we can prevent this tragedy from happening.