Kids Left in Hot Cars Are Dying at Alarming Rates

It’s hot outside, and this, unfortunately, means we’ll be reading about babies and toddlers dying in hot cars more frequently. What can you do to help you remember your baby is in your car before you lock up and walk away?

You are 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 while this is not the first time this has happened, it likely won’t be the last. For the past few years, this number 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 if the engine is not running.

Deviation from a regular routine is one of the main reasons a parent will forget they have their precious cargo on board. In addition, stress and fatigue can lull a parent into a state of mind where this horrible tragedy can 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 left 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 addition to hot car deaths, in some states, it’s against the law to even leave your child unattended in a vehicle at all. Laws do vary from state to state, and while some states have a total of zero laws on this topic, others do. 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.

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 hopefully prevent your child from experiencing the horror of a hot car death.

A version of this story was originally published in June of 2015.

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