Like all of us, I am overwhelmed with sadness whenever I read yet another news story about a hot car tragedy.
This week brought double the heartbreak, when toddler twin girls died in Georgia after they were reportedly left in a car while temperatures were in the 90s. After neighbors heard shouting and called 911, police arrived to find the father trying to revive his daughters in a kiddie pool and neighbors applying cool packs in a desperate attempt to lower their body temperature.
In 2016 alone, 26 children have passed away after being left in hot cars, according to national safety organization KidsAndCars. While all of us may wonder how this could happen so frequently, from what I’ve read it’s most often due to either kids getting into cars without parents’ notice, or parents forgetting a child in the backseat.
The father in this incident has been arrested and charged with two counts of manslaughter and reckless conduct; details have yet to emerge on how long little Ariel Roxanne North and Alaynah Maryanne North were in the car. It often doesn’t take long for children to die of heat stoke, as their body temperatures rise more quickly than adults’ do.
It’s easy to cast judgment and wonder how on earth a parent could forget their child in a hot car. But in the majority of stories I’ve read, there is a sleeping child in the backseat and a parent has disrupted their usual routine. “I have had one moment in my life as a mother when I realized how you could do this (literally for half a second I forgot one of my babies was in the car) and now I get it,” a friend commented on a Facebook post of mine about the girls’ deaths. “People say ‘I could never do that’ because it makes them feel better as a means of self-protection … but it could happen to any of us.”
The best and most practical prevention tip I have read is to leave something in your back seat like a cell phone or handbag, or employee ID or briefcase if a parent is headed to work. It’s also important to always keep your car locked, including on driveways and in garages, and to hide the keys. This way, your child cannot wander into the car without your knowing.
While it’s hard to say anything good can emerge from these nightmares, I’d like to think that every news story raises parents’ awareness about the phenomenon and that these children did not die in vain. I’d like to think that the incidents remind us all that if we are ever in the parking lot of a grocery store, mall, or whenever and see a child alone in a parked car, we immediately alert the store or authorities.
A few days ago, I ran an errand with my 10-month-old using the navigation app Waze. When I arrived, this reminder popped up on my phone screen:
I could request regular reminders to check my car whenever I arrived somewhere, and I did. This “child reminder” is a beta feature, found under Waze’s app setting.
I grabbed Ben from his car seat as the sun burned down on my back, plopped him into the stroller, and headed into the coolness of the store. But not before I stopped to kiss the top of his little head, grateful for my boy and for technological advances that can help keep all our kids safer.