It's getting hot in here.
It's the middle of summer, which is usually the time of year we start talking more about kids being left in cars.
According to Kars4Kids, an average of at least one child dies from heat stroke each week after being left in a hot car.
But here's the thing: Often parents or caregivers don't realize how hot it can get inside a car, even when it's not that hot outside.
When the outdoor temperature is in the 60s, it can still rise to over 110 degrees inside a parked car. So knowingly leaving a child alone in a car can create a life threatening situation, no matter the temperature.
And then there's this sad fact: Sometimes parents — yes, even otherwise "good" ones — forget that their kids are in the car altogether.
While that might seem hard to believe, it's possible and it happens. (There's a great Washington Post article about parents who forgot their children in cars that's worth reading if you're skeptical that quality parents can make real, tragic mistakes. You can also read first-person stories from loving and heartbroken parents who made this mistake themselves on KidsAndCars.org.)
Morris Franco from Kars4Kids explains, "There have been many tragedies of this kind that were a result of very loving and responsible parents forgetting their child [in the car]." Morris notes that it happens across socioeconomic levels and professions — doctors, lawyers, computer scientists, teachers, and more have all forgotten their children in hot vehicles.
"Experts have explained this phenomenon of 'Forgotten Baby Syndrome' with the following," says Morris.
"Many tasks during the day for most people are performed by rote and require very little conscious thought. The part of the brain that controls that type functioning is the motor cortex. Then there are other tasks which do require critical thinking in order to make a clear decision and that is governed by the hippocampus part of our brain.
Whenever a person is stressed, sleep deprived and/or distracted there is a very high probability that the motor cortex part of the brain will override the cognitive thinking part.
A classic example would be when planning to make a stop on the way home from the office, when suddenly you find yourself parked in your driveway with your errand undone. That is your motor cortex kicking in your routine, while your critical thinking 'takes a break.'"
So what can we do to keep kids out of hot cars?
First, we can educate people about how hot it actually gets inside of a closed vehicle. In this social experiment conducted by Kars4Kids, the organization offered $100 to people who could complete the "Hot Car Challenge" — remaining in a closed car for 10 minutes.
Watch how long these people lasted (and see how they reacted) to understand exactly how hot it gets inside of a car.
Not one single person lasted 10 minutes. Every person asked to get out before the time was up.
As one participant said, "It seems fine at first, but once that door closed, almost immediately, it becomes really hot and the air flow becomes oppressive."
Second, we can find ways for parents or caregivers to remind themselves that there is a child in the backseat.
Franco offers the following ideas to help:
- "Place a personal item that you would never leave the car without in the backseat," he says. That will ensure you have to actually open the door and look in the back before you leave the car. Items you could use include your cellphone, your purse, or one of your shoes.
- "Have a stuffed animal designated in the car seat always. When strapping in the child to the car seat, place the stuffed animal in the passenger seat. This will serve as a reminder to the driver upon reaching their destination that your child is in the backseat. Then replace your child with the stuffed animal upon departure of the vehicle. Repeat upon return," Franco suggests.
- If you take your child to day care, Franco advises you "tell your childcare provider to notify you any day your child was not dropped off to daycare. Many times these tragedies occur due to a change in routine when someone else was given the errand of dropping off the child to daycare."
- There's an app for that! Kars4Kids created an app that causes an alarm to go off on your phone each time you (and your phone) leave the car.
Remember, don't ever leave kids in a car — even when it doesn't seem that hot outside — and don't think that an honest accident couldn't happen to you. Take precautions to remind yourself that your little one is in the backseat.