It’s impossible not to feel horrified and heartbroken when you read a story about a child dying after being forgotten in a stifling hot or freezing cold car. You imagine a helpless little soul strapped into a car seat for hours, suffering alone, and then ultimately succumbing in a most tragic and gruesome manner. You think it could never happen to your kid, but so many of the guilty parents in these cases are really just like us. Which is to say — capable of doing the worst even though they have the best of intentions.
Two summers ago I was visiting my family with my daughters, the younger of whom was 11 months old at the time and still in a rear-facing car seat. In my car at home, we had a mirror in front of her face so she and I could see each other while I was behind the wheel. In my parent’s car, she had no mirror, so I couldn’t catch a glimpse of her when we were out and about. I never forgot to take her out of the car, but without a visual every time I looked in the rear-view mirror — when she might be asleep or otherwise quiet — I sometimes forgot she was there. When I remembered, my heart always skipped a beat and I’d shudder at the possibilities.
When stories emerge about a child dying after being forgotten in a car, experts inevitably emerge and advise parents to leave their purse or briefcase next to the car seat so they’re forced to dip into the back seat before exiting the car. Except what if you’re a woman who doesn’t carry a purse — or a man who keeps his wallet and keys in his pocket?
Andrew Pelham was in the fifth grade in Tennessee when he read a story that took place in his neighborhood about a woman who left her child in a hot car. According to My Fox Tampa Bay, he was thinking about entering a rubber band contest and “thought this was a good time to use both ideas and find a way to stop that problem,” Pelham said.
The contest asked kids to simply produce something out of rubber bands. Pelham came up with the EZ Baby Saver to help remind parents when their kids are in the back seat.
“It’s a device that as you strap your child into your car, you would flip it over your seat and then strap it to your door, so when you got out of the car it would be blocking your path out of the car so you can’t get out without undoing and remembering my child’s in the car,” he said.
While the invention earned him runner-up status in the engineering and science division, the larger prize, and inarguably the more valuable one, could be that he might actually prevent some children from dying needlessly in cars should parents take the time to implement his system. Pelham isn’t even trying to make money from his invention, as his website provides a guide for how to make your own EZ Baby Saver at home using just rubber bands and duct tape.
However, Pelham unfortunately might be doing a disservice by not making EZ Baby Savers available for sale — as plenty of parents who think this could never happen to them might not take the time to craft one of these devices. Perhaps if it was just a matter of entering a credit card number and having one shipped home and hooking it up easily in the car, parents might be more likely to decide it’s worth their while.
The fact is that for the parents who have ever regrettably left behind a child in a car to disastrous results or even just as a cautionary tale, none of us are above being harried, distracted, or forgetful (often the hallmarks of parenting, especially in the early years). It should be a simple thing to remember something as important as a child, but far too many headlines — 15 child deaths from being left behind in cars in 2014 alone — prove that so many of us are imperfect. Here’s hoping Pelham’s invention will spur some families to make a simple change to their car routines in an effort to spur fewer tragic headlines.
Image credit: EZ Baby Saver
More from Meredith on Babble: