Ask a dozen people to tell you what summer means to them and you will likely get twelve different responses. Some might wax poetic about peaches so juicy they are best eaten over the kitchen sink, while others may regale you with descriptions of lazy sunscreen-filled days lounging around the pool. But no matter what your personal association with summer may be, there is one constant that applies to all of us living in the northern hemisphere: hotter than hot weather which, sadly, brings devastating stories of children succumbing to heatstroke after being left unattended in a car all too frequently.
If you have ever parked your car in the sun, you know that by the time you return, your vehicle will feel like the inside of a toaster oven. That analogy is all too real according to KidsAndCars.org. As it notes, even with the windows cracked open it takes just minutes for the inside of a car to reach 125°F, with interior temperatures rising rapidly during the first ten minutes. Making matters even worse, children are far more susceptible to heat than adults; last year alone a record 52 children in the United States, ranging in age from seven weeks to eleven years, died of car-related heatstroke.
In a Pulitzer Prize winning article that appeared in the Washington Post in 2009 titled Fatal Distraction, author Gene Weingarten observed that deaths of this nature began to increase in the late 1990s when safety experts decided that babies were best protected from crashes when their car seats were placed in the back seat, facing rearward, which also happened to position them out of their parents’ line of vision. And while, logically, we might all assume that no responsible parent could ever forget that a child was in the car, a long list of tragedies has proven us wrong. In fact, caring men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, including doctors, professionals, scientists and plenty of others have accidentally forgotten their children in the back seat, with heartbreaking results.
Much has been said about whether or not automakers and car seat manufacturers should be incorporating technology into their products that would alert parents to their precious cargo in an effort to prevent heatstroke tragedies. Some have already jumped in – several GMC SUVs and a handful of car seats by Cybex and Evenflo offer some solutions. A quick Google search turns up multiple car seat alarms that sync to a smartphone and/or key fob and a car seat – walk too far away from the seat without removing your child and the device will alert you to your child’s presence. It comes as no surprise that there are multiple free and paid smartphone apps that serve a similar purpose. As always, do your homework, read reviews and see what kind of comments others have left behind so that you can make an informed decision.
Meanwhile, as technology continues to evolve, it is important for anyone who ever drives a child anywhere to devise a personal strategy that will remind them to get their young passenger safely from point A to point B. Some ideas you might want to consider:
Leave something that you cannot possibly forget in the backseat of your car, next to the car seat. While suggestions for this approach run the gamut from putting your cell phone, car keys or briefcase in the backseat, I am a big believer in going with one or both of your shoes. Let’s face it, we have all left important items behind in our cars when we are in a rush, but the time it can take to realize your mistake could be too long when it comes to a baby trapped in a hot car. It is pretty safe to say that no one in their right mind is taking more than one step away from their car without realizing that they are shoeless, making this my all time favorite method of making sure that your baby leaves your car with you.
Similarly, keep your child’s gear on the front seat next to you. Take advantage of the stuff that kids typically travel with including diapers, bottles, sippy cups and other assorted paraphernalia and use it as a visual reminder of your cutie’s presence.
Keep a teddy bear in your car seat at all times. When you need the car seat for your child, put the bear in the front seat with you, where it will be a visual reminder that the car seat is occupied by a human. Be sure to put Teddy back in the car seat when you take your baby out so that the message is clear: bear in the front seat equals child in the back seat.
If you use Waze, take advantage of its child safety reminder feature. Go into the settings menu and scroll down to reminders, toggling child reminder from the off to the on position. When you arrive at your destination, Waze will send an alert reminding you not to forget the little person in the back seat.
Always look before you lock. No matter where you go, get into the habit of doing a backseat scan before hitting the lock button on your remote.
Position your child’s car seat in the middle of your backseat instead of on either side. Yes, it is a little more inconvenient whenever you take your kid in or out of the car, but seeing that car seat every time you glance at the rear view mirror will remind you that you aren’t alone in the car.
Speak to your child’s school or daycare and have them call you anytime your child fails to show up without prior notice.
Keep your car keys hidden at all times. While many of the children who died in cars of heatstroke were accidentally left behind by parents, on other occasions, kids have found the keys, got into the car and then were unable to figure out how to get out by themselves and were found when they were beyond help.
No matter what the weather, it is also important to remember that leaving children unattended in the car is never a good idea. As of April 2018, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington all have laws on the books that make it illegal to leave a child in a car without supervision, although the details of the law vary by state, with similar legislation proposed in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. It is also important to remember that even in states where there are no laws on the books, leaving kids alone in cars can still land you in a whole boatload of trouble with Child Protective Services, so while it can be complicated and frustrating, resist the urge to do so even for just a minute or two.
As the summer starts to sizzle, slice up some watermelon, indulge in a day or two at the beach or head for the porch and watch the fireflies light up the night. Enjoy your favorite hot weather activities and whatever you do, stay safe!
Sadly, the Jewish community is not immune to tragedies of this nature and there have been multiple fatal stories, both in the United States and in Israel, of children dying after being accidentally left in cars. We all lead busy lives and young parents in particular have so much on their respective plates – please, please, please, take the necessary precautions to protect your precious cuties from this kind of preventable tragedy.