Keep kids safe in the heat
As summer temperatures soar, a parked vehicle can quickly become dangerous – especially for children, whose body temperatures rise faster than that of adults. In fact, once every 10 days a young child dies after being unknowingly left alone in a hot car; it happened in Georgia just last week.
Called “forgotten baby syndrome,” the phenomenon results in approximately 38 child heat stroke deaths in vehicles per year, according to the nonprofit organization KidsAndCars.org. Hyperthermia (heat stroke) is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle fatalities for children, according to the group, which works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to raise awareness of the issue.
“It’s a problem with memory when parents or care takers have so much going on: deadlines, multi-tasking, stress, poor sleep,” says Sarah Katula, an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Forgetting a child in a car also happens when there is a change in the normal routine of the day – for example, dad drives the baby to day care instead of mom.”
Children were moved to the backseat of passenger vehicles when dual airbags became a standard safety feature in cars in the mid-1990s. Many state laws require children age 12 and younger to ride in the rear seat; experts recommend children age 2 and younger ride rear-facing in their car seats. That means children are often out of the driver’s immediate line of sight when exiting a vehicle – causing some to be left behind.
While on the surface it would seem unthinkable that a loving parent could simply “forget” his child in the car, it’s possible because of how the human mind operates, according to one researcher who has studied the trend. Our brain habit memory system, which controls the routine tasks we perform on “autopilot” such as driving to work every day, can suppress the activation of our cognitive memory system, which controls the execution of specific tasks such as dropping off a child at daycare.
Katula urges parents and caregivers to take extra precautions to prevent this tragedy. Her tips:
- Clip a string from car seat to car keys
- Put an alarm on your key chain
- Leave your purse, brief case, phone or left shoe in the back seat
- Sit a teddy bear in the front seat every time a child is in the car seat in back
- Always look in the front and back seats when leaving the car
- Put a note to yourself on the dashboard
Simply being mindful that this can occur is another key to prevention, Katula says. Share these tips with your spouse, baby-sitter and anyone who takes care of your children in addition to other parents and friends, particularly on hot days when the temperature in a parked car can reach 109 degrees in 15 minutes.
About the Author
Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is manager of content strategy for Advocate Aurora Health. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.