Imagine this scenario, one spouse is sick and the other spouse that is typically not responsible for dropping off the baby at daycare is charged with the task for today. It is a mild sunny day, about 70 degrees. On the morning commute, the baby falls quietly asleep in the backseat. The spouse gets distracted and takes a phone call while driving, goes the usual route to work, gets there and immediately goes inside to start their day. The baby is asleep in the vehicle, and within 10 minutes, the vehicle has gotten 20 degrees hotter.
A temporary lapse in memory could turn deadly within minutes.
“Memory is a machine and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cell phone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.” (Dr. David Diamond, Professor of Molecular Physiology, University of South Florida)
As busy moms we usually have some sort of daily routine we utilize to try and get things accomplished. Typically either mom or dad is responsible for getting the children up, dressed, fed and off to school or daycare each morning. Be extra cautious, if you have to change ANY part of your normal routine. A change in one’s normal routine partnered with lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, distractions and hormone changes can sometimes lead to a tragic event. You may be saying, “HELLO! Motherhood naturally results in a lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, distractions and hormone changes, right?” Partner those things with a change in your normal routine, and the outcome could result in a heartbreaking situation.
Hyperthermia or heatstroke is far more likely to occur when a well-established routine is broken, and you, your spouse or a caregiver forgets a child is in the backseat of a vehicle. You may think this sounds ridiculous and that you would never forget your child in the backseat. According to KidsAndCars, the stats show since 1991, there have been at least 613 child vehicular heatstroke deaths. That is an average of 38 deaths annually or one death every 9 days. Eighty-seven percent of children that have died from vehicular heat stroke are three years old or younger. Sadly, in over 50% of these deaths the person responsible UNKNOWINGLY left or forgot them in the vehicle.
The temperatures are rising, and Louisiana natives know the true meaning of a hot summer. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels and the body cannot cool itself quickly enough. I bet you are unaware that a child could die from heat stroke on a mild day with a temperature of just 72 degrees. Why? Well, it is simple. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s. When you get into your vehicle, isn’t it always hotter than it is outside? Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise 20 degrees in as short as 10 minutes, even with the windows down. Here in Louisiana, the summer temperatures can hit 90 to 100+ degrees, with record breaking heat!
I know most people would never intentionally leave a child in a vehicle. Remember, changes in normal routines are usually the main reason a child gets forgotten in a vehicle combined with stress, fatigue and distractions. As mothers, we are always multi-tasking, or, as I like to call it, hyper-tasking. Our brains can’t always keep up with the demands of our hectic lives. Children in car seats often fall asleep when in vehicles and become silent little travelers. Babies in rear facing car seats often fall asleep too and are quiet, but more importantly they can’t be seen from the front seat so they become invisible. This is when the out of sight, out of mind comes to play.
Educating the public and raising awareness of this situation is key in preventing these tragedies from continuing to occur. The following are some simple safety tips from KidsAndCars that you can take to ensure this doesn’t happen to you:
- Never leave children unattended in vehicles.
- Place your cell phone, briefcase, or purse on the floorboard of the back seat so you will have to open the back door of your vehicle.
- Get into the habit of opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach a destination or “Look before you Lock.”
- Arrange with your daycare or sitter that you will always call if your child will not be attending on scheduled days.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when it is vacant and transfer the stuffed animal in the front seat as a visual aide when your child is traveling with you as a reminder they are in the backseat.