Forgotten Baby Syndrome Causes Hot Car Deaths

forgotten baby syndrome

Never leave a child unattended in a car. Always “look before you lock.” (Flickr / Creative Commons / Jay Gooby)

So far this year, there have been 16 children who have died in a hot car in the United States, according to San Jose State University. In 2015, there were 24 hot car fatalities. Forgotten baby syndrome, or forgetting that one’s child is in the car, is the number one cause of hot car deaths in children.

A tragic case in 2011 involved a one-year-old girl called “Ray Ray” who died after being forgotten in a hot car. It was 94 degrees the day that little Ray Ray died. Her father had forgotten to drop her off at daycare, subsequently leaving her in a hot car. That year, there were 33 cases of hot car fatalities in children.

The number one age group of children who were victims of vehicular heat stroke since 1998 was under one years old. This group was followed by one year olds and two year olds, decreasing as children get older. Extra care should be taken with younger children because they cannot indicate as easily that they are still in the car in cases of forgotten baby syndrome.

Dr. David Diamond of the University of South Florida studies forgotten baby syndrome. There are good, attentive, loving parents who lose awareness that their child is in the car, Dr. Diamond said. In the case of Ray Ray’s death, her mom does not blame her husband for forgetting her child in the car. It could’ve happened to her, too, she said.

However, they were disappointed that they were never educated about forgetting their child in a hot car. They took parenting classes and learned about a myriad of topics, but did not learn about this issue. This is why Ray Ray’s mom started her own organization to raise awareness about child vehicular heatstroke, Ray Ray’s Pledge.

In September 2015, Texas passed “Ray Ray’s Law,” which mandates hospitals to educate parents about leaving their children in hot cars. One of the tips to preventing forgotten baby syndrome is to keep an object or a note in the car when one’s child is also in the car. This way one is reminded of their child’s presence. Hospitals will hand out a keychain to remind parents they have their child in the car in Texas under Ray Ray’s Law. They will also hand out pamphlets.

In addition to keeping an object in the front seat, the daycares should also have a system where they notify parents that their children did not arrive on time. There is also a smartphone app called “Mom I Am Here.” The app has an alarm system to remind the person of the child’s presence in the car. It has emergency contacts to contact in the event of an emergency. Ray Ray’s mom uses the app with her three-year-old twin girls now, and encourages other parents to utilize smartphone alarm systems.

Parents can do everything in their power to keep their children safe, but still can forget their child in a car. The brain’s habit memory system takes over rather than the prospective memory system, which involves planned and intentional action. Something in Ray Ray’s dad’s brain thought that he wasn’t dropping his child off at daycare that day. That’s how easy it can happen. This is why Ray Ray’s mom encourages people to take preventive action like using smartphone alarms.

Even without dying from vehicular heat stroke, there can be brain damage and disability. It takes just ten minutes for a car temperature to go up 20 degrees Fahrenheit. On an 80 degree day, it takes ten minutes for the car to rise to deadly temperatures. It also only takes a 57 degree day to cause heat strokes. On a 60 degree day, car temperatures can still raise to 110 degrees.

Kids and Cars recommends implementing a “look before you lock” system. Always check the backseat for a child before locking the car doors. It is important to remember that cracking a window is not sufficient. Children should never be left in the car alone. Also it is good practice to keep car doors locked at all times. While 54 percent of hot car deaths are forgotten children, 29 percent were playing in the car unattended. and 17 percent were left in the car intentionally.

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Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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