I try to avoid reading news stories about child abuse and dying babies—but last week someone posted on Facebook a story that is every parent’s worst nightmare, and I read it.
On Wednesday, May 11, a mother in Mississippi put her two-year-old daughter, Caroline, in the car and drove her to day care at Little Footprints Learning Center. Then the mom parked the car in a nearby garage, and went to work. At the end of the day she came to pick up the toddler and was told that she had never dropped her off. The panicked mother raced to the car only to discover that the little girl was dead. Police have filed no charges and have not released the mother’s name, saying it was a tragic accident.
I couldn’t get the story out of my mind for the rest of the week. I did some research and learned that an average of 38 babies and children die in over-heated cars every year—over 700 in the last 20 years. You can see stories and photos of 22 children who died of heatstroke and five more who nearly died at: http://www.kidsandcars.org/heatstroke.html.
Here are some shocking facts from kidsandcars.org:
- Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in children under 15.
- A child's body heats up three to five times faster than an adult's does.
- When left in a hot car, a child's major organs begin to shut down when his temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (F).
- A child can die when his temperature reaches 107 degrees F.
- Cars heat up quickly! In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees F.
- Cracking a window and/or air conditioning does little to keep it cool once the car is turned off.
- Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees F.
Yes, a child can die within an hour, even if the outside temperature is in the fifties. I read about a couple who came home from the supermarket, unloaded the groceries, but forgot that the baby was sleeping in the car. When they realized it an hour later, it was too late.
I learned that a company named Intel asked a young woman engineer, a new mom named Marcie Miller, to come up with ways to prevent child deaths in hot cars and she created the Smart Clip, a gadget filled with sensors that parents can slide onto the strap of their baby’s car seat. The clip communicates with an app on the parent’s smart phone and sounds an alarm if it senses the baby is still strapped in while the parent is walking away.
But the device costs $50 and I suspect that most parents wouldn’t buy it because they think they would never forget the baby in the car ( judging from comments I saw about the Mississippi girl’s death.)
It was a tragic irony that, two years after they announced the Smart Clip, an Intel employee’s six-months-old baby died in a car parked in the Intel parking lot in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her father, Intel engineer Joshua Freier, said he had taken her to the pediatrician for her six-month appointment and then was supposed to drop her at day care, but Freier started to think about work and drove past the day care and straight back to the Intel campus, he told investigators.
When I was a small child 70-some years ago, there were no car seats. My father would let me sit in his lap and pretend I was driving. Any parent who did that nowadays would be immediately arrested. Now every detail of car safety is spelled out by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
When my first grandchild was born five years ago, no newborn was allowed to leave the hospital until the nurses had examined the car seat and its installation (back seat, facing backward.) When I had to install baby seats for the grandchild in my car, a specially trained local fireman did it for free, and signed papers as to its safety.
I’m certainly no engineer, but after puzzling over the problem of babies dying in hot cars, I’d like to suggest the following solution:
1. Every car seat should be equipped with a thermometer that will set off a loud, continuous alarm once the temperature inside the car rises above, say, 85 degrees. It should be as loud as the car alarms set off with the panic button on car keys. (Yes, the noise would traumatize the baby, but it could save his life.)
2. This alarm would be activated when you click the straps on the child’s car seat into place. When you release the straps to take the child out, the alarm would be deactivated—the opposite of the way your car beeps when you haven’t put on your seat belt.
3. Parents and grandparents should petition the major child car seat makers to build this alarm into every car seat. Our legislators should also be petitioned to add this requirement to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
and scroll down to “Manufacturer web sites” to find the link to the maker of your child seat. Then e-mail them, alerting them to this post and demanding a temperature warning alarm in every car seat.
4. Finally, every day care center and preschool-- in fact every school-- should be required to contact the parent or caregiver when a child is more than10 minutes late. Many already do this as policy, and it could save many lives, but during non-school hours it would not save the children who were forgotten in the family garage or parking mall, the way a temperature alarm would.