It is a heartbreaking story that took six months to investigate and deliver.
Reporter Gene Weingarten writes in the Washington Post magazine last month on “Fatal Distraction” - the story of how children are inadvertently left to die in cars by inattentive adults.
As the weather gets warmer expect to hear more of these tragic stories.
“Death by hyperthermia” is the term and each year an estimated 15 to 25 children die due to hyperthermia (heat stroke).
There are already two fatalities this year, reports Kids and Cars, an advocacy group dedicated to awareness.
Two decades ago this phenomena was rare, but with the safety recommendations of moving children to the back seat of the car children are more easily forgotten.
Who could do such a thing? Anyone writes Weingarten.
“The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.”
David Diamond, a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida explains in the story that, "Memory is a machine," he says, "and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you're capable of forgetting your cell phone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child."
He goes on to explain the mechanisms of the brain that allow memory to fail, such as when you drive home and find you have driven from point A to point B without any recollection of the route.
The story is heart wrenching and eye-opening at the same time.
Awareness and Prevention
There are things harried parents and caregivers can do to remind themselves of their little cargo in the back. Offered by the parent organization, KidsAndCars.org - these reminders that don't cost a penny and can help prevent these tragedies.
If you employ the first three (all at the same time) your child should never be inadvertently left behind.
- Put something you'll need like your cell phone, handbag, your employee badge, lunch 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 way it will become a habit.
KidsAndCars.org calls this the Look before you Lock campaign.
- Keep a large teddy bear in the child's car seat when it is not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the teddy bear up front in the passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that anytime the teddy bear 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 provider or babysitter that you will always call them if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled. Ask them to phone you if your child does not show up when expected. Many children’s lives could have been saved with the 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.
- 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.
- The Sisters of Invention company of Lexington, KY, responding to reports of children dying after being left in automobiles, has a product line that stresses safety. The Halo Baby Seat Safety system consists of two items- an easily installed car seat pad that works with your HALO key fob monitor. The system is activated when a baby is placed in the car seat. If a child is accidentally forgotten or the vehicle becomes too hot or cold, the key fob will sound a reminder and the car seat pad will sound an alarm with a synthesized voice saying “baby in danger” to alert passersby.