Editor's note: This story was first published in July 2015.
It’s a story that happens all too often. This week a South Florida couple forgot their baby in the car and found the child unresponsive an hour later. The child later died.
After returning from the grocery store, the parents began unloading the shopping bags from the car while their 11-month-old baby sat in the backseat. When they finished, they went back into the house. By the time they realized the baby was missing, it was too late.
“This was a child that was unknowingly left there and everyone else thought someone brought in the baby,” says Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit focused on improving child safety around cars.
“I feel very strongly they are failures of memory and not failures of love.”
The child is the ninth to die after being left in a car in 2015. By this time last year, 19 children had died in hot cars and 700 have died over the past 20 years. Most of the children are mistakenly forgotten. Some of the children crawl into the car without the parents’ knowledge and get stuck. And, a small percentage of children die because their parents believe it’s safe to leave them.
Infants and toddlers are most at risk—87 percent of children who have died in hot cars are under age 3.
“It is quite dangerous for children and infants as they don’t have as great of an ability to regulate their temperature,” says Dr. Richard Saladino, chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “If the outside temperature [is] 90, temperatures [in the car] can increase from 80 degrees to 130 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes.”
This heat causes the core body temperature to increase to 106 degrees, leading to heat stoke.
“The temperatures rise very quickly, rise to such extremes where the body can no longer compensate,” says Dr. Amy Sniderman, pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
Fennell believes overwhelmed, overtired parents forget their children. Many parents believe they have dropped their children off at daycare only to find later the child was still in the car. Or parents don’t realize their kids climbed into the car.
Fennell recommends these 7 tips that every parent should follow:
1. Look before you lock.
Open the backdoor and look in the backseat to assure that everyone is out of the car (even if you think you are childless).
2. Keep something you need in the backseat.
Put your cell phone, briefcase, computer, lunch, ID badge, left shoe, or anything essential to your daily routine beside your child.
3. Travel with a furry companion.
Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat. When baby is in the seat, the stuffed animal rides shotgun. The furry passenger serves as a reminder that baby’s in the back.
4. Always lock the doors.
Even if the car is in the garage, keep the doors locked to prevent curious children from getting into the car.
5. Put the keys and fobs away.
Kids might want to play with keys and be able to get into the car without parents knowledge.
6. Have a plan with childcare provider.
If your child does not show up to daycare or school without prior notice, someone should call to locate child.
7. If you see something, do something.
If you see a child alone in a car, do not hesitate to call 911.
“The biggest mistake people make is thinking it can’t happen to them,” Fennell says.
“When you say ‘this can’t happen to you’ then you have already decided you don’t need to use these safety tips … it is easier to blame others than to understand that we are all vulnerable.”