National Child Vehicular Heatstroke Awareness and Prevention Day
Posted on April 26th, 2017 by Zane Cagle
Today is National Child Vehicular Heatstroke Awareness and Prevention Day. Already in 2017, five children have died from heatstroke inside vehicles and summer is still officially about two months away. On average, 38 children die every year due to heat-stroke after being trapped inside vehicles. #LookBeforeYouLock
A common misconception is that a child is only left in a car due to “bad parenting”— this is simply not true. It is my theory that as a parent, it is much easier to dismiss the cause as “bad parenting” and rationalize that, “it could never happen to me because I’m an attentive parent”. It is just unbearable to think that such a nightmarish thing could ever happen in your family, so we dismiss it the very thought.
These tragedies are not confined to any particular type of parent.
It happens to the wealthy as well as the poor and middle class families, educated and uneducated parents and all kinds of parents. It has happened to a dentist, police officer, postal clerk, social worker, accountant, soldier, paralegal and electrician. Mothers are just as likely to inadvertently leave their child in the backseat as are fathers.
Gene Weingarten wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning article for The Washington Post and, it’s a powerful read “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?
Everyday, Practical Tips to Avoid Inadvertently Leaving a Child in a Car: KidsAndCars.org
- Put something you will need such as your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or briefcase on the floor board in the backseat
- Get in the habit of always opening your back door of your vehicle every time to reach your destination to make sure no child is left behind
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s seat when it’s not occupied. When you place the child in the car seat, put the large stuffed animal in the front passenger seat as a visual reminder.
- Make arrangements with your child’s day care center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there, so they can call if for some reason you so not bring your child.
- Keep vehicles locked at all times even if parked in the garage so children cannot crawl into a vehicle.
- Keys and openers should not be left within the reach of a child
- When a child is missing, first check the vehicles and trunks, children often crawl into these spaces and inadvertently lock themselves inside
- If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out immediately
- Use drive-thru services when possible to avoid getting in and out of your car and potentially leaving your child asleep in the car
Avoidance Through Awareness and Education
When safety experts improved vehicle safety through air bags in the 90’s, manufactures recommended putting child car seats in the back and facing the back of the car. How would experts have predicted? Still, experts agree you should still follow the backseat, rear-facing recommendations and that we must search for ways to increase awareness about #vehicularheatstroke to avoid these deaths.
No doubt, these nightmare stories make us aware and hopefully, impact our habits. Our memory is not infallible, thus creating systems to remind yourself is not succumbing to the thinking that you are a bad parent. Everyone of these parents who experienced this nightmare live with a guilt and emotional torture far stronger than any criminal sentence. It is hard to imagine that it could actually happen to you. As I’ve said before, it is far easier to dismiss it and take comfort in the thought that “it could never happen to me”.
There Is Not a Word for This Kind of Tragedy
One of the best part’s of Weingarten’s article is the information from Mark Warchauer, an internationally acclaimed expert in language learning and technology – University of California at Irvine. According to Warchauer, “We lack a term for this nightmare event. ‘Accident’ is not the correct word as it implies that it could not be prevented, but “incident” sounds trivial”. This experience happened to Warchauer himself and while he was not charged with a crime, he contemplated suicide and has cohabitated with his grief and guilt.
David Diamond, professor of molecular physiology at the University of Florida and consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa, says, “Memory is a machine, and it’s not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child”. He further explains the intersection of memory, stress and emotion. It’s complex and he has forgotten his infant granddaughter was asleep in the back of his car while driving, but remembered when his wife mentioned the grandchild in a conversation while she was in the car with him. He knows what would have happened had he been driving alone and he shudders to think about it.
We Must All Work on this Safety Issue
Each one of us can bring an end to this devastating tragedy. As caregivers, you can set up safety reminders in layers (KidsAndCars.org) . If you are a passerby and you see a child left attended in a car, you can take action. Call 911 immediately! The seconds you wait could be the difference between life and death.
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