Posted on June 4th, 2018 by Zane Cagle
Common Misunderstanding: It Can Happen to the Best Parents
The first thing I usually hear when I do an article about kids inadvertently left in a car resulting in serious injury and death, I come across a lot of indignant parents. It’s a natural first reaction. They say things such as, “If you aren’t smart enough to take your kid out of the car, then you don’t deserve to be a parent” and many other indignant comments. Granted, if a child is left in the car purposely, we all are enraged.
However, in each of these tragic child heatstroke deaths, it is a rarity that a parent does this on purpose. In account after account, parents are forever changed after such a horrific event. As a parent, your child being hurt due to an action on your part is absolutely terrifying and soul crushing. The very idea conflicts with our essential responsibility as a parent. Thus, our gut reaction is righteous indignation–“that could never happen to me, I’m a good parent”. But, alas, it does happen………………… to the best of parents.
Efforts at Prevention
Numerous safety organization have made kids and safety their number one priority including KidsandCars.org and Safekids.org. I’ve previously shared much information from KidsAndCars.org regarding the many child injuries and deaths that occur in and around vehicles. We know that motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of child death, but there are so many other dangers that impact children in and around cars such as heatstroke, driveway incidents.
Intervention- Look Before You Lock
In 2017, 43 children died from being inadvertently left in hot cars. Researchers found that even if a car is parked in the shade, the temperatures can become deadly, quickly. Anytime the temperatures outside exceed 70 degrees, children can die in cars, quickly. On average, 37 children die in heat-related deaths after being trapped in vehicles. Small children are most at risk, primarily because they fall asleep and are quiet. Sometimes general get into cars and accidentally lock them and sometimes, a care giver will inadvertently leave them in the car (usually because they are asleep and quiet).
I met the good folks at KidsAndCars.org in 2010 when my wife and I had a toddler. I realized this very nightmare could happen to me, no matter how safe I thought I was. I directly benefited from their common sense reminders. The most common scenario is when a parent has an altered routine. Meaning, a different parent takes the child to daycare, the child falls asleep and the parent continues on their routine and forgets the child is there.
I was lucky in that my children didn’t go to daycare, but from time to time, I did take one or both of my children to pre-school. I practice “look before you lock” but, the more reminders, the safer I feel. Thus, I implemented at least one strategy suggested by KidsandCars.com. I put my phone on silent next to the baby. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to continue my work for the day without that phone and if it was under my child, I wouldn’t forget about her even if she went to sleep.
Again, the very thought of “forgetting” about my child makes my stomach flip. The horror of those parents who realize they left their sleeping child in the car in the parking garage or in the parking lot and went into work is just an unimaginable nightmare.
Make a practice of always looking before you lock–look in the back seat before you lock your car and keep your car locked at home in the garage so that your children cannot crawl into it and accidentally lock themselves inside.
Summer-Great Time to Implement Safeguards
As heatstroke deaths are concentrated in the summer months, it’s a great time to implement a safety plan as a parent. Expert Dr. David Diamond examined this phenomenon and studied the memory systems of the brain to try to understand how this continues to occur to the best of parents. His research discusses the competition of brain’s habit memory system and its prospective memory system. He states that habit memory systems tend to prevail. Prospective memory system is the planning and execution of an action in the future, such as planning to take your child to daycare. Habit memory refers to the tasks that involve repetitive actions that are performed routinely, such as your route to work and route to your home.
If you are changing up your pattern, leave yourself notes such as “my baby is in the backseat” on your steering wheel. Or, KidsAndCars.org suggests putting something that you always take with you such as your cell phone under or beside the child. They also suggest the use of a stuffed animal, but to me the cell phone was something I clearly am never without so it worked well for me.
Technology in our cars remind us to buckle up, change the oil or add air to our tires; thus, it seems there ought to be some tech in our vehicles to assist in this continual reminder system for children. GMC did offer a reminder system in one of their 2017 modes, the GMC Arcadia; but more vehicles need to be included. We take drastic steps to remove all nuts from products and recall faulty toys, thus shouldn’t we attempt to do something about the average of 37 heatstroke deaths of children per year?
Perhaps, we don’t want to rely on technology. There are elaborate reminder systems you can put in place yourself. It does not make you a bad parent to do so or to recognize that this horrid event could happen to you and take precautionary actions. It takes mere seconds to implement a reminder system.
It takes mere minutes in a hot car for a child’s body to reach 105 degrees at which time their bodies begin to shut down. Leaving a child in the car for even just a few minutes can be deadly.
Realizing It Can Happen to the Best Parents is the Best Way to Ensure it Doesn’t Happen to Your Child
Frankly, we need to get over ourselves and our overblown idea of the perfect parent we may think we are. As a parent, you know the job is massive, non-stop and fraught with worry and self-doubt. When I first heard about these heatstroke deaths, I immediately thought, “That can’t happen to me, I pay attention”. But, I have parented long enough to know that it only takes a few moments for your child to get hurt while you are watching them!
As I said before, it is just too horrific to imagine this kind of tragic event taking place with your child or someone you know, but denying that it could possibly happen is not addressing some easy preventative measures. Realizing that this tragedy can happen is the first step to preventing it. Realization is not letting a parent off the hook to be responsible but it does raise the awareness of reminders to help parents better do their jobs.
We put door guards, safety gates and double locks on any cabinets in our houses to keep our children safe. Thus, it only makes sense that we would think of our cars in the same way.
Car crashes are the number one cause of death for children. Just as you absolutely would always secure your child in a properly installed child safety seat, you need to set up reminders to ensure your child is safe in and around the vehicle when it’s not moving.
Our attorneys partner with KidsAndCars.org for many safety reminders and practical suggestions to keep your child safe in and around vehicles. As we have small children, this topic speaks very close to home.
If you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle crash, call us at (314) 276-1681