“The doors were shut, he was sweating and sobbing, with his face pressed against the window,” says Amy Amos, talking about her almost 4-year-old son, Henry. “Ten minutes while we were distracted, and he was trapped in the car.”
In a blog post that went viral last week, I gasped in horror as Amos, mother of three, pregnant with twins, and foster mommy to many, recounted the moment she realized that her son could have died. “We had gone to the pool,” she wrote, “When we got home I made sure he was unbuckled from his car seat, and his car door was wide open. I was carrying in wet towels and swim trunks, my wallet, keys, the camera, a lens that I was worried about dropping, *and* I’m pregnant with twins and had to pee.”
And as many moms can attest, Amos’s explains that her son isn’t unlike many other kids his age. “He often walks inside slowly, stopping to look at random crumbs in the car seat or ants on the ground.”
Knowing that she had opened to door for him, and her older kids were also getting out of the car, they all trudged inside. “The older kids were running around doing stuff, we had just let the dogs out and we were getting ready to make sandwiches,” her post went on to say. Sometime later, Amos noticed that it was a quieter in her house than it usually was; Henry was missing.
“We started looking for him–maybe he was in the bathroom pooping. Or sometimes he will grab the iPad and sit down quietly” she explained.
But Henry wasn’t in the house; he was trapped in the car.
It might be easy to jump on Amos and wonder how she could leave an older child in the car, but she isn’t alone. Only 54 percent of heat-related car deaths are children aged 1 year and younger. A full 26 percent of children who die in hot cars are ages 3-7, meaning these fully mobile children died because they were literally unable to open the car door.
And what is even more staggering, is that 32 percent of heat-related deaths resulted from a child who let themselves into the car, and then couldn’t get out.
Yes, that’s right, children are dying because we aren’t teaching them how to open car doors — a task made more difficult by child safety locks that can sometimes only be disengaged by the driver’s side door.
“I’m sure you all are like me — you think you would never forget your kid in a hot car” says Amos. “But what if your kid gets trapped in a hot car by accident?”
On that fateful day, little Henry had gotten down on the floor of the SUV to find a lost flip flop, and an older sibling — thinking Henry had already gotten out — closed the door and went inside.
“I felt sick when I realized that my son could have died if circumstances were different,” Amos tells Babble in an interview. “But I know based on a lot of negative comments and messages I’ve received that many moms assume it couldn’t happen to them; that they would never be that parent. But the reality is that we’re all human and life happens. I can see now that it can happen just as easily as other things that lead to the silly pictures you see shared on the internet. Except instead of a toddler covered in peanut butter or a preschooler who cut his own hair, a child dies in a hot car. These are the things that happen to every parent when we aren’t looking, except sometimes the consequences are much worse.”
Thankfully, Amos noticed Henry’s absence quickly. But for many parents, even then it might be too late. Last year, three-year-old Evan Trapolino died after he went into his parents’ car to find a lost toy and couldn’t get out. His parents searched for 45 minutes before finding him in the car, but it was too late. And for nearly 6-year old Michael Esposito, a fun game of hide-and-seek claimed his life when he became trapped in the car he hid in.
As for Amos and her son Henry, things are changing around her house. “Tomorrow my 3-year-old will be practicing how to open the car from the inside all by himself. Opening the door handles, [learning] how the locks work, and how to honk the horn until someone comes to help if you can’t open the door.”
To really hit her point home, she adds “It’s not a thing that I’ve ever heard of or thought off — practicing how to get out of the car. But it should be. It should be something that preschool kids are taught, just like we tell them what to do in case of a house fire. We have fire drills. Why not car escape drills? We teach them how to swim, how to float on their backs if they fall in water accidentally and can’t get out, yet we don’t teach them how to get out of the car sitting in the driveway.”
It’s true when you think about it. God willing, our kids will never be in a fire, or under the water where we can’t grab them. But cars? We put our kids in them every day, so why aren’t we making sure that they also know how to get out?
We should be teaching them that; their lives could depend on it.