It happened again. Police in Duncanville, Texas, released video of a 1-year-old child they found locked inside a hot car on August 17. The infant was trapped—alone, crying, and covered in vomit. This time, luckily, the infant was rescued.
Since April, there have been 19 deaths credited to children being left in hot cars in the U.S. And KidsAndCars.org, which tracks these deaths and proposes new policies to help prevent them, reports that over 940 children have died from heatstroke—with an estimated 39 deaths per year, or one death every nine days—since 1990.
So why, exactly, is this still happening in 2020? According to NoHeatStroke.org, 54.2 percent of these heatstroke deaths occurred because a child was forgotten by the caregiver, 25.2 percent of the children gained access into the car on their own, and 19.1 percent of cases happened when a child was knowingly left by the caregiver.
“The most common response is that only bad or negligent parents forget kids in cars,” David Diamond, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa who has studied the role memory plays in these cases and has worked with KidsAndCars.org, told Consumer Reports. “It’s a matter of circumstances. It can happen to everyone.”
I know what you're thinking—"That'd never happen to me." But, unfortunately, Dr. Diamond's research has discovered "Forgotten Baby Syndrome," where a parent is sort of on autopilot completing tasks as usual but, due to a lapse of memory, can forget the child is in the car. This is akin to putting coffee on the top of your car before getting in and accidentally driving away—with the coffee left spilled behind. It's how a completely responsible, loving parent could make a devastating mistake.
On top of this, stress—and let's not forget sleep deprivation, which many new parents experience—can exacerbate things. "It affects how our prefrontal cortex functions and makes it more likely we'll do something out of habit," Dr. Diamond told Parents.com previously. After reviewing the cases of dozens of parents who unintentionally left their child in the car, he found that something in their routine was a little different that day.
"Once you've driven from Point A to Point B enough times, you can do it without thinking," Dr. Diamond said. "You might not even remember the trip. But it's common to drive right past the store and come home. When your partner says, 'Where's the milk?' you feel flustered because you remember the conversation, but for some reason you came home instead."
Here's what parents should keep in mind during the summer months and when temperatures spike to prevent hot-car injury and death:
Remember, it's not just negligent parents who leave their kids in hot cars. It's better to be safe than sorry and get into the routine of double-checking before you exit your vehicle.