Sophie Gray was just 13 months old when her father inadvertently left her in the backseat of his car instead of dropping her off at day care. It's a mistake that is frightening in its simplicity — a warm day, a sleeping child and a busy morning was all it took for Sophie's dad to make a heart-stopping discovery after a long day at work. Sophie Gray spent the entire day in the car, and she died of heatstroke as a result.
According to Kidsandcars.org, 38 children die each year from heatstroke when they're left inside hot cars. Last year, that number was 44. Although there's no trend suggesting that these numbers are consistently on the rise, we do know that the incidents increase dramatically during summer months. The reason is simple — the stakes are higher. If a parent forgets a child in the car on a cool day, heatstroke is less likely than in the summer months, when an 80-degree day can produce car temperatures that exceed 120 degrees within an hour.
Nearly 1 in 4 parents with a child under 3 admit to forgetting a child in the car. That's what makes my stomach churn when I read stories like Sophie Gray's — because it could just as easily be a story about my daughter, if I'm just a little too frazzled on a bad day.
If you're a parent who knowingly leaves your child in the car while you run a quick errand, it's time to stop. I understand the temptation, when all you need is a gallon of milk and your toddler is sleeping peacefully in the backseat. Regardless of the convenience, it's putting your child at risk for summer heatstroke.
For those parents who are afraid of their own forgetfulness, Kidsandcars.org provides these safety suggestions.
Keep important items in the backseat. Store your employee ID, shoes, briefcase or purse on the floorboards of the back seat, so you'll always have to look backwards before exiting the vehicle with your items.
Build a mental habit. Make a point of opening and closing the back door of the car every time you exit the vehicle. This will build a habit very quickly, and will protect you against leaving your child in the backseat accidentally.
Call in a backup. Ask your babysitter or day care to call you if your child doesn't arrive as scheduled. This quick-thinking may cue you that something is wrong before it turns into a tragedy.
It's also important to know your weaknesses. When you know that you're busy at work or otherwise stressed by life, that's the time to be extra vigilant over your child's safety. Don't let daily stress take your child's life.
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