It’s hot outside, and this, unfortunately, means we’ll be reading about babies and toddlers dying in hot cars. Yes, it still happens — far more often than you might think. So what can you do to help remember your baby is in your car before you lock up and walk away?
You’re probably thinking that you’d never leave your child in a car and go to work. But parents who make that fatal error probably never thought they’d do it either. Recently, a Tennessee dad is facing charges after his 3-year-old son passed away after spending several hours in a hot car. This is the 20th hot car death in 2019 so far, and it likely won’t be the last. For the past few years, the number of infant/toddler hot car fatalities has steadily gone up — in 2018, there were 52 fatalities, in 2017, there were 43, and in 2016, there were 39.
This has become such a pervasive problem that a new bill, recently introduced in the House, would require vehicles to emit an audible warning if someone is in the back seat while the engine is not running.
Deviation from a regular routine is one of the main reasons a parent will forget they have precious cargo on board. In addition, stress and fatigue can contribute to a parent’s weakened state of mind — which could allow tragedy like this to happen.
What can we do, then, to ensure we never leave our children in cars?
Leave an object in the back seat. When you strap your child into her car seat, leave something beside her. Your shoe is probably the most effective — you can’t get out and walk without it, so you’ll automatically get in the back seat to fetch it. You could also leave your phone, your purse, your briefcase or your packed lunch back there to help trigger your memory.
Add “check the back seat” to your daily routine. Even if you don’t leave anything in the back seat on a daily basis, you should still strive to keep your mind back there for the duration of your trip, even repeating your reminder out loud. This is especially crucial if your routine will be different on any given day.
Tape a note to your dash. Over time, this may become part of your usual visual landscape, so alternate colors on a weekly basis to make it stand out.
Set an alarm on your phone. Time it to go off when you typically arrive at work, so even after a mind-numbing commute, the alarm will cut through your sleep-deprived state if you’re suffering from fatigue.
Consider a car seat alarm. Products are popping up that will help you remember your baby is still with you, like this one with excellent reviews from Ride N Remind (Amazon, $129.99).
In some states it’s against the law to leave your child unattended in a vehicle for any period of time. Laws do vary from state to state (some states have no laws on the subject at all). Missouri’s law, for example, only applies if you leave your child in a car unattended and they cause a fatal accident. In Connecticut, though, you’ll be in trouble if you leave a child under 12 years of age alone in a vehicle for any reason/amount of time.
Leaving a child in a hot car is a completely avoidable tragedy. If you take steps now to automatically check your back seat when you get to your destination, you can absolutely protect your child’s safety — and save their life.
A version of this story was originally published in June of 2015.