It seems that nearly every week during summer there is news of a tragedy or near-tragedy resulting from children being left alone in hot cars.
The number of children dying from heatstroke in cars, either because they were left or became trapped, has reached a record high. In 2018, 53 children lost their lives — the most in over 20 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This year, there have been 32 such deaths as of Aug. 11, according to Jan Null, who tracks the incidents through NoHeatstroke.org.
More than half of vehicular heatstroke cases from 1998 to 2018 were because an adult forgot about a child, Null found. Among the trends he discovered in these incidents:
• About 44% of the time, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at daycare or preschool.
• The end of the workweek — Thursdays and Fridays — saw the highest number of deaths.
Knowingly leaving a child in a car is unthinkable, though it happens. According to NHTSA, a locked car sitting in the summer sun quickly turns into an oven,” and “temperatures can climb from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes, to 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes.”
A child – or anyone – in these conditions for long is at risk of death. So how do we eliminate the increasing number of instances in which the caregiver leaves the child in the vehicle by accident?
Most parents assume they would never accidentally forget their child in a car. Unfortunately there is Forgotten Baby Syndrome -- a medical term that explains how a parent can walk away from a car without realizing their child remains inside. There are a few contributing factors of which parents should be aware:
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• Motor memory takes over in daily routines. Each day, people perform tasks that become routine, which means very little conscious thought goes into them. Your motor memory is in charge, and therefore, allows you to think of other things while you drive – your dinner plans, grocery list, etc. When this happens, you might drive home and go inside as usual, completely forgetting your child is in the backseat.
• Multitasking makes it easy to forget. Most modern lives are fast-paced and hectic. People can become easily distracted. Because of this increase in multitasking, even the best parents can leave home on a stressful day and end up forgetting their baby.
• Technology is a major distraction. Answering phone calls in the car while you’re driving can be a huge distraction. It’s easy to forget or accidentally ignore what is around you when you’re giving all of your attention to a phone conversation or even texting and browsing social media.
Technology, however, may be vital in heading off child-in-car tragedies.
The eClip is advertised as a device to attach inside a car to help remind parents to remove a baby from the car seat.
The eClip detects when you walk more than 25 feet from your car by alerting you through an interactive app on a smartphone. The eClip also monitors the temperature in the back of the car to keep it safe and comfortable for a baby.
The device is attached to a car seat, regular seat belt or diaper bag. It can be attached to even more places with an accessory strap. An on/off switch is designed so a child cannot accidentally turn it off and there are no small parts that pose a choking hazard.
As much as it seems unbelievable that such a device would be needed to help parents and caregivers, the number of tragedies shows that it is. There are even suggestions that automakers should make such a detection device standard equipment. At a cost of $50, the eClip or similar device would be a valuable and lifesaving addition to safety equipment.