Yes, It Could Happen to You: How to Prevent Accidental Death in Hot Cars

Every day, parents and their kids across the country get up, go to school, daycare, or work and come home to enjoy evening play, dinner, and bedtime together. For over three dozen families per year though, the day ends in tragedy rather than the happy giggles and snuggles it should. Each year, 37 children die in hot cars after their parent or caregiver mistakenly leaves them in their vehicle, most commonly after believing that they’ve dropped them off at their daycare or with their babysitter.  


When these incidents hit the news, it’s common for the public to vilify the grieving parents. There are angry posts on facebook about how they must have been neglectful, must not have loved their children and must care more about their material belongings like their phone or purse than their own baby. The angry and hurtful comments often end with a refrain that the commenter absolutely, positively could never forget their own child in the car.

While it’s normal for people to experience sadness or anger when they hear about the preventable death of a child, the worst thing they can do is believe that it can’t happen to them. In reality, the data shows that parents whose children die this way aren’t neglectful or stupid or bad. They are regular people, people in a range of career fields with a range of backgrounds and with love for their children. There is no profile for people whose children die this way. But one thing they do have in common is that they didn’t believe anything like this could happen to them.

This summer, when you see news stories about the tragic hot car deaths that happen each year, instead of vilifying the parents, use the anger or sadness you feel to commit to taking steps that will prevent the tragedy from happening to you. Check out the steps below that have been proven to help people overcome the way our flawed brains sometimes work and ensure their child is not inadvertently left in a hot car.

hot cars
Image via Pixabay

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Ask your daycare to call whenever your child does not arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.

Speak with your daycare provider and ask them to call if your child does not arrive by their normal time. Even if it means fielding a few calls when your child is out sick or you’re simply running late, having an extra person checking in to make sure your little one is safe is never a bad idea.

Put an essential item in the backseat.

While it may seem silly to think that you’d be more likely to remember your phone than your child, our brains sometimes work in ways that don’t make sense to us. Basically, it’s often easier for our brains to revert to and a rely on habit, like grabbing for our phone as we get out of the car, rather than to consciously remember that our routine has shifted and the baby our partner usually drops off is asleep in their backwards facing car seat.

Set a reminder alarm on your phone.

Just like having your daycare provider check in on your little ones whereabouts can be helpful, setting a reminder alarm on your phone for a few minutes after you arrive at work to mentally check-in with yourself about where you child is. Set an alarm and leave it on all summer- hopefully the alarm won’t ever remind you that your little on is still in the backseat but, if it does, the annoyance of turning it off every other way will be more than worth it.

Acknowledge that it could happen to you.

Simply being aware that no one is immune from the mental errors that make tragedies like hot car deaths happen will make you less likely to experience these errors yourself. Being aware that these accidental deaths happen to good people and actively working to prevent them in your family are real steps you can take to help keep your little one safe.

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Yes, It Could Happen to You: How to Prevent Accidental Death in Hot Cars

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at ... More

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