In the United States, it happens 15-25 times a year.
It can happen to anyone. It can happen to you.
Human memory is not infallible. “If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child,” says David Diamond, professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida, who researches the interaction of emotion, stress and memory.*
Around 15-25 times a year, a child is forgotten; left inside a car for hours; and dies from hyperthermia.
According to Diamond, a combination of particular circumstances—the perfect storm—can cause the part of the brain that allows us to operate on autopilot to override our thought-processing center, leading to mistakes in memory.
The perfect storm is acute or chronic stress, emotion, lack of sleep and a change in routine.
“Some people think, ‘Okay, I can see forgetting a child for two minutes, but not eight hours,’” says Janette Fennell, who runs a nonprofit organization that lobbies for car safety for children, Kids and Cars. “What they don’t understand is that the parent in his or her mind has dropped off the baby at day care and thinks the baby is happy and well taken care of. Once that’s in your brain, there is no reason to worry or check on the baby for the rest of the day.”*
Diamond and Fennell were interviewed for the article “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?” in The Washington Post. Parents who fell victim to the perfect storm were also interviewed.
Fennell believes the solution to the perfect storm and the way to save children’s lives is improved car safety features and increased public awareness that this can happen.
So, please read this article. And please tell everyone you know about what can happen.
P.S. It’s happened again recently. Here’s a report from ABC about a distracted father who left his two-year-old son in the car for two hours in Kentucky’s summer heat. Thankfully, a co-worker saw the child and called the police. The boy survived. The report mentions a free app called “Baby Reminder” that may be helpful to caregivers.
*Quotes are from the article “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?” in The Washington Post.