Kids dying in hot cars — left either by a parent who forgot that a child was in the backseat after a change in routine, misjudged the safety of the vehicle or flat-out did not care that their baby was left behind in a sweltering minivan — are one of summer’s inevitable and depressingly common perennial stories.
In the case of the former, kids dying in hot cars appears to be nearly unavoidable. More than half of all deaths of children left in hot vehicles are attributable to instances where a parent simply forgot that their small child was in the car, a phenomenon that was extensively covered in a very sad but very important read in the Washington Post magazine a few years back titled “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?”
In the piece, incidents such as a parent who does not normally do a task such as dropping a child off at daycare were examined, and experts suggested that the human brain is wired to perform certain tasks on autopilot — making it terrifyingly easy for a parent to “forget” that they must stop at the child care center on the way to work.
In the intervening years, it seems that parents and law enforcement are coming to accept that the circumstance of “forgetting” a child in a vehicle leading to hyperthermia death is a tragic accident that could literally happen to anyone — and products designed to prevent the often-fatal misstep from occurring have been brought to market.
However, experts say that such products may help a little — but inconsistent response and frequent “false alarms” make the devices not entirely reliable for total prevention. The New York Times explains:
“The research team found none of the devices worked consistently. Many were prone to false alarms. Others were difficult to install and required extensive maintenance. None of the them addressed instances where children get into cars on their own.”
It seems until parents accept that the frightening reality is that this is an accident that can and does occur to loving, careful mothers and fathers, the problem will persist in being seen as one of negligence. Would you trust a device to safety check your backseat for a sleeping baby or toddler?