I took a look through my Facebook feed this morning, and there was a headline that sunk my heart, "Twin babies die after being left in hot car, father charged." There are not a lot of details about the circumstances in which it happened, yet, but they will come out in the days and weeks to follow. Was it a case of deliberate neglect or did he simply forget they were there?
According to Kids And Cars, approximately 37 children die after being trapped in a hot car each year. Since 1990, at least 775 deaths have occurred. It only takes minutes for a child's core temperature to reach 105 degrees. Have you ever been in a vehicle with no air conditioning, or sat in one with the windows open? It gets hot very quickly.
Sadly, two stories like this have touched me. In 2007, a family from church's 21-month-old toddler died after being left in their van for 7 hours. The mother was out of the country, and the father was overwhelmed, being left in charge of their 13 children. He assumed an older child was caring for the baby. In 2011, my veterinarian's two-year-old son died after being left in a van for 7 hours when she forgot to drop him off at daycare before going to work. Both were tragic mistakes.
Years ago I read an article in The Washington Post magazine that really stuck with me. It is heartbreaking, but when you read it you understand it can happen to anyone. I've raised three babies myself, and used to think, "I could have never done that." The sad part is, maybe I'm wrong. I remember going to take my daughter out of a car seat many years ago and becoming frantic because she wasn't there. Our routine had changed that morning, but my autopilot had kicked in as soon as I parked and I had forgotten. I've driven away from the house many times over the years only to go back to double check I had turned off the iron or the curling iron because doing it was so routine that I simply didn't remember doing it.
I was never the lucky mom to have kids sleep through the night. For about 6 years of my life, I never had an uninterrupted night of sleep. Physical and mental fatigue caught up to me frequently. I was fortunate to either not be working or to have a job that did not require drop offs at a daycare center, but many people have different scenarios. Lack of sleep has a huge toll on memory, concentration, reasoning, and judgment, which is cited as a cause of this type of accident.
Unfortunately, there are stories that make headlines of true child endangerment and neglect as parents have left their children in cars to shop, work, socialize, and to engage in illicit activities, but that's another topic altogether.
I've seen reminders on the doors of businesses not to leave pets in hot cars, and it always sparks social outrage when it happens. I've only seen one sign that reminds people not to leave their children in the car. These incidents are so clearly preventable, but the issue usually only makes press when there is a fatality. Education is so important for parents, and some type of reminder system should be in place to ensure this doesn't happen. Leaving a purse or cell phone in the back seat with a child forces the driver to check. The 2017 GMC Acadia will have a reminder system in the vehicle. Having a daycare provider call if a child fails to show is another. I'd like to see businesses remind people about their kids in the same way they do their pets. Parents with young children who seem harried, distracted, exhausted, and overwhelmed could also use support in some way, and maybe more lives will not end in a tragic and preventable way.