As of May 25, nine children have died this year from heatstroke caused by being left in a vehicle. While that figure has been decreasing since 2013, even one death is too many.
Sadly, some parents do leave their children in the car while running into the gas station “for just a minute,” grocery shopping or even, shockingly, gambling at the casino. But in most cases, the parent or caregiver simply forgot their child was there.
It’s easy to assign blame and criticize the parents. What kind of parent could forget their child in the car?
Memory isn’t that simple. According to an article on hot car deaths in Parenting, the brain has two memory systems. There’s the part of your brain that enforces routines, enabling you to drive to work the same way at the same time every day without thinking. And there’s the part of your brain that is responsible for more temporary actions, such as swinging through the ATM on your way to work. The routine part of your brain is stronger, which explains why you’re likely to forget about the bank unless you have an independent reminder, such as a check in your hand.
Imagine that your spouse always drops the baby off at daycare in the morning. Today you have to take the baby to daycare. The baby falls asleep in the car, your brain goes on autopilot, and the next thing you know, you’re parking your car at work. The baby is still quietly sleeping, and you’ve forgotten she is in the car. Fortunately, your daycare has a policy of calling the parents when a child does not arrive, and you are able to get your daughter out of the car before she is harmed. Not all parents are so lucky.
One of the simplest ways to prevent a hot car death is by leaving yourself a visual clue that a child is in the backseat. When you put your child in his car seat, set something next to him on the seat that you’ll need when you arrive at your destination. This could be your purse or wallet, your cellphone or even your coat. Even if you forget about your child while driving, you’ll see him when you reach into the back for your reminder item.
You can also train your brain to check the backseat every time before you lock the car by taping a reminder to your steering wheel. It won’t be long before you’ve developed the habit of looking before you lock.