A 22-month-old boy in Georgia died last week after his dad forgot about him in the back seat of his SUV. A 9-month-old baby girl in Rockledge died two days earlier having been left in the back of a pickup. Four years ago, just blocks from The News-Press office, a toddler died in the back of her dad's SUV.
These tragedies could have been prevented. And I'm proposing a way to make that happen.
If you are driving a child, after you put them in a back seat – in a car seat, booster or buckled in with a seat belt – put your left shoe back there too. I bet you will never forget your precious cargo.
A lot of you who read this will say, "There's no way I'd ever forget my kid."
And a lot of you will be wrong.
This year, according to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, there have been 13 deaths from children left in cars, and summer has just begun. Last year 44 children suffered this horrific death.
The results of a recent survey, published on the SafeKids.org website stated that:
14 percent of parents have intentionally left their children in a parked car.
11 percent of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car.
Nearly 1 in 4 parents of a child under 3 has forgotten the child in a car.
Dads are nearly three times more likely than moms to leave a child in a parked car.
Not all deaths were caused by people forgetting. They may have thought cracking the window made the car cool enough. About 6 percent of the people in the above cited Public Opinion Strategies survey, thought it was OK to let a young child stay in a parked, locked vehicle for longer than 15 minutes. Some deaths are caused by kids getting into cars, getting trapped and dying before anyone discovers them.
Still, a little more than half of all child heatstroke deaths in cars were caused by a parent forgetting the child was in the car. The parent is distracted, preoccupied or running on autopilot, like many busy parents of babies and toddlers. The child falls asleep. The parent gets out of the car and leaves the baby behind.
Often, safety experts say, the death comes when a parent breaks a routine.
For Reginald McKinnon of Cape Coral, it was picking up his daughter Payton from day care and taking her to the doctor. After the appointment he put her in the rear-facing car seat on the back seat and headed back to work. He spent the day there not realizing the 17-month-old was still in the back seat. When he opened the door to his SUV to go home, Payton was dead, still strapped into her seat.
McKinnon was sentenced to five years of probation and community service for Payton's March 2010 death. He is dedicated to honoring Payton's memory by educating parents and friends about the risk of hyperthermia when children are left in cars.
In Marietta, Ga., Justin Ross Harris was booked on murder charges last week after he forgot to drop his child at day care and went to work instead. On his drive home, he discovered his 22-month-old son was in the back seat.
I don't think criminal punishment of the parents responsible for their child's death does any good. It's punishing a victim. It doesn't work as a deterrent. No parent says, "Oh, I'm not going to accidentally leave my kid in a hot car because I could go to jail."
What will work is some kind of system that won't fail to remind a person there is a little one in the back seat.
In 2012 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a report, "Reducing the Potential for Heat Stroke to Children in Parked Motor Vehicles: Evaluation of Reminder Technology." It found reminder and detection devices to be unreliable and required too much effort from caregivers in order for them to operate.
Putting something on the back seat as a reminder isn't a new idea. Safety groups have been pushing it for years telling people to put something you will need when you reach your destination.
You don't always have your laptop, your purse, or your cellphone. But you do always have a shoe.
So when you put your kid on the back seat, put your left shoe back there, too.
Do it every time. Tell whoever takes your kid in a car to do it too. Help each other remember. Spread the word. Make it a habit and make sure no child is ever left to die in a hot car.