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Survey shows the big mistake parents make when they think about hot car deaths

“The overwhelming majority of parents think it cannot happen to them.”
by Meghan Holohan / / Source: TODAY

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Every year, children die in hot cars: 29 so far this year.

And every year, parents react the same way: with horror and a firm belief it could never happen to them.

A new survey finds that 78 percent of parents think they could never forget a child in the car, and 85 percent of parents take no precautions to prevent it from happening.

That attitude could kill their children, Ari Finkelstein of Kars4Kids told TODAY Parents.

Only 22 percent said they think, "I better take more precautions so this doesn't happen to me."

“The overwhelming majority of parents think it cannot happen to them,” Finkelstein of Kars4Kids told TODAY. “This actually happens to good parents and can happen to everyone.”

Kars4Kids, a non-profit car donation organization, surveyed 2,500 people about the risk of children dying in cars and what they think of parents whose children died in cars. When they hear about a child dying in a hot car, 61 percent of parents said their reaction is, "No responsible parent would leave their child in a hot car." Only 22 percent said they think, "I better take more precautions so this doesn't happen to me."

Dr. David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, has studied hot-car deaths extensively and says there is a scientific explanation for how an otherwise caring, responsible parent could forget their child in a car. It has to do with the way the human brain functions on "auto pilot" for routine tasks, filling in gaps in memory.

“What I try to get across to people is it’s not about the importance of the item. It’s about a dynamic brain system,” Diamond told NBC News in 2017. “And it goes to tragic memory failures. ... Any person is capable of forgetting a child in a car."

Many companies are coming up with technological solutions to the problem, but there are simple things parents can do right now to make sure they never forget their children in cars.

  • Put something you need, such as a purse, phone, briefcase or lunch in the backseat with your child. Then you always have to look back there for it.
  • Travel with a teddy bear in the back seat. This serves as a reminder to look behind you.
  • Scan the car before you leave it.
  • Have a plan with your childcare provider. If your child doesn’t show up at school or daycare without notice, someone will call to locate the child.
  • If you see a child alone in a car, call for help.

“We hope that at the end of the day people take precautions. There are so many easy precautions,” Finkelstein said. “Not only are we saying it can happen to you, but the goal is that it can happen and we can prevent these tragedies.”

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