Anyone can forget a child in hot car, Florida expert warns

Every 9 days, a child left in a hot car dies from vehicular heatstroke

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Every nine days, a child left in a hot car dies from vehicular heatstroke, according to Consumer Reports. Last year, 52 children died. While July and August are typically the deadliest months, a child left in a car can die when the temperature is mild.

So how could someone forget that a child is in the backseat? Consumer Reports turned to a Florida neuroscientist who explains memory failure can happen to anyone.

“It all fits the same pattern, that memory gets suppressed temporarily and we lose awareness of the child is in the car," explained David Diamond, professor of psychology at the University of South Florida.

Diamond has been studying the science behind this common memory failure that can have tragic consequences. 

"We know this is clearly related to the competition between the different brain memory systems. We have powerful brain autopilot brain memory system and gets us to do things automatically and it gets us to do things automatically and in that process, we lose awareness of other things in our mind, including that there’s a child in the car,” Diamond said.  

WATCH: Dr. David Diamond on how someone can forget a child in a car

Two months ago in Jacksonville, 4-month-old Brooklyn died after being left in a van at Ewing's Love & Hope Preschool & Academy, but Consumer Reports explains that even on a mild day, there can be tragic consequences. 

“The temperature inside a closed vehicle can reach dangerously high levels in less than an hour. This is unsafe for children and small babies because their body temperature rises three to five times faster than adults and they are unable to efficiently regulate their body temperature,” Consumer Reports car seat expert Emily Thoma explained.

Because a tragedy like this can happen to anyone, Thomas says it’s best to create a routine with reminders for yourself every time you drive.

“We encourage parents to make a habit of every day putting a laptop bag or a lunchbox in the back seat, even if your child is not with you. Doing this will force you to visit the backseat after every trip,” she said.

Thomas also suggests keeping a sippy cup or your child's coat up front with you.

Some people go so far as to say put a shoe in the back seat… give yourself a cue so that when you get out of the car you have that reminder!” Diamond said.

Consumer Reports says you should also have a plan that your childcare provider or child’s school will call you if your child does not show up.

There’s a bill making its way around Congress called the Hot Cars Act. It would require cars to come equipped with technology that alerts drivers if a child is left in the backseat after the ignition is turned off. Consumer Reports says concerned parents can reach out to their federal lawmakers.

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