A look at the unsettling trend of children dying in hot cars

Too many young children are dying in hot cars -- left there by loving parents who simply forgot. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — Rising temperatures have given way to rising statistics.

Too many young children are dying in hot cars — left there by loving parents who simply forgot, says psychologist Elaine Ducharme.

Forty four children died last year in sweltering cars, according to the statistics supplied by child safety advocacy group Kidsandcars.org. This year, 14 accidental deaths have already occurred.

“I think people have become so distracted,” Ducharme says. “They get where they are going, they turn off the car and they just get out.”

Distractions, stress, and lack of sleep are just some of the factors involved in Forgotten Baby Syndrome or FDS, Dr. David Diamond, a frequent consultant on FBS court cases, said to HLN.

Diamond says our brains have two types of memories, the automatic memory and the conscious memory.

When you go to work in the morning, it is the automatic memory that kicks in. How many times have you driven to work and not remembered the drive there?

The two types of memories usually work in tandem, but when you add the lack of sleep for a parent of a newborn or a stressful work phone call, your auto pilot comes on, Diamond said to HLN.

If that happens and a child is in the car, the events can become tragic. Two decades ago, FBS was not a topic of conversation, but then safety experts weighed in on car seat safety.

“This is what we call an unintended consequence,” says Sue Auriemma, vice president of Kidsandcars.org.

In order to protect the child from an exploding airbag in the passenger seat, it was recommended to put them in the back and at times pivot them facing the back seat.

“Our organization still maintains this is the safest place for the child in the car,” says Auriemma. “But unfortunately, it becomes the out of sight out of mind phenomenon.”

A sleeping baby who makes no sound is almost invisible to a distracted, loving parent.

Auriemma says it’s unsettling to see that the numbers are still as high as they are. She points to a national campaign by the United States Department of Transportation and kid safety organizations called “Look before you Lock.”

Ducharme says it is hard for people to understand how a child is forgotten. But it is really not as difficult for someone who is busy and maybe not used to dropping the child off, she says.

So what can parents do?

  • Keep a toy or a stuffed animal like a Teddy bear in your child’s car seat all the time. When you put the child in the seat, the bear or toy should be placed in the front passenger seat. A cue for you that baby is in the back.
  • Put your purse or briefcase behind the driver’s seat on the floor. That way you need to open the back seat door to get it.
  • Parents and daycare providers need to have a call-in routine. If that child does not show up around the normal time, parents should get a phone call.

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