Just How Likely Is the Danger of Forgetting A Child?

Just How Likely Is the Danger of Forgetting A Child?

by Hannah Mann

Open that conversation, remove the stigma, and you might find that you know at least one parent or babysitter who has forgotten their child, if only temporarily, in the car– sometimes for hours before anyone realizes she’s missing. Or, you yourself might have done it too. In fact, after runover accidents, heat stroke is the second most common cause of child car deaths from 1990 to 2013. And near-misses are far more common.

The biggest difference between you, the people you know, and the next news headline comes down to this: the child is found before any long-lasting damage takes hold, so the story never hits the media or becomes recorded in public data. No death, no news, no records. Even long-term casualties such as Gideon Laasch (ongoing neurological damage resulting in years of physical therapy) and Sara Corrine (kidney failure and a week-long ICU stay) tend to be less publicized.

Among the sparse data on near-misses, we did procure these: medical professionals at one hospital in Wichita, Kansas reported having seen one to two children each week in July 2015 for heatstroke from a hot car. That’s four to eight children in one month from a single hospital in a medium-size Midwestern city– not exactly the likes of New York or Chicago. And in 2010 to 2011, San Antonio’s Fire Department responded to roughly 140-180 calls to recover children locked in cars between April and September.

It can’t happen…

…to me; I’m a smart/responsible/loving parent.

Chances are these parents thought the same thing. And chances are they would be right in their self-descriptors: they’re devoted homemakers, professors, C-level executives, police officers. Unfortunately, most of them also fell to one or more of the four predominant (and very human) factors in “Forgotten Baby Syndrome”:

  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Change in routine
  • Heightened emotion


In other cases, both (or all) parties thought the child was safely in someone else’s care, and no one realized it until it was too late. Those circumstances are sadly not unique to any particular demographic or occupation.

Going through 661 media reports of child hot car deaths, San Jose State University researchers found that parents deliberately leaving their child in the car (either due to ignorance or outright neglect) accounted for only 17% of cases. The vast majority were due to forgetfulness (54%), or the child becoming trapped in an unattended vehicle (29%).

…in the North; it’s too cold here.

While southern and tropical states– especially Texas and Florida– do carry the highest rates of hot car deaths, a third of hyperthermia-induced car deaths occurred in the northern half of the United States in 2013. Peak summer temperatures can hit the 80’s or more in the entire United States– including Alaska.

On the flipside, hypothermia is an ever-present danger during harsh northern winters, with little extremities being particularly susceptible to frostbite.

…in the spring; days are so nice and cool.

When it comes to internal car temperatures in spring, more direct sunlight, due to the angle of the globe, is the chief culprit. Moreover, even with cooler outdoors temperatures, heat builds up inside a car without dissipating. Cracking the windows open doesn’t generate enough airflow for the car to cool down, and parking in the shade doesn’t help by much. In fact, 2016’s first infant death occurred when the outside temperature was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. (In full disclosure, leaving the heater on also contributed to that particularly horrific incident, which appears to be a case of deliberate neglect. The grandmother has been charged with murder.)

…outside of the States; American life is so hectic.

While it’s true that our work-life balance ranks worse than most other developed countries, hot car deaths isn’t an uniquely American phenomenon. In fact, Sunshine Baby received multiple inquiries from Israel, Australia, Mexico, and Sweden.

“Wait. Sweden?” (That’s what we said, too.) The first thought might be to attribute it to higher incidences of hypothermia– extreme cold, not heat. Not exactly. Because of Sweden’s placement on the globe, their daylight hours range from 4 to 20 hours, depending on the season. Particularly in June, the sun does not set completely and temperatures can exceed 70 degrees. That’s a long time for cars to bake.

Bottom line: there’s no race, creed, location, or occupation that precludes a child’s hot car death from happening to anyone. A parent’s best bet is to acknowledge the risk, and take precautions accordingly. For maximum peace of mind, we’ve developed the iRemind alarm that can be installed on any car seat and used on any iPhone.

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