Police in Texas found a 1-year-old locked inside a hot car, crying and covered in vomit. Fortunately, the child was saved—but more than 900 children have died from heatstroke over the past decade. Here's what parents need to know.

By Melissa Mills
August 27, 2020
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It happened again. Police in Duncanville, Texas, released video of a 1-year-old child they found locked inside a hot car on August 17. The infant was trapped—alone, crying, and covered in vomit. This time, luckily, the infant was rescued.

Since April, there have been 19 deaths credited to children being left in hot cars in the U.S. And KidsAndCars.org, which tracks these deaths and proposes new policies to help prevent them, reports that over 940 children have died from heatstroke—with an estimated 39 deaths per year, or one death every nine days—since 1990.

So why, exactly, is this still happening in 2020? According to NoHeatStroke.org, 54.2 percent of these heatstroke deaths occurred because a child was forgotten by the caregiver, 25.2 percent of the children gained access into the car on their own, and 19.1 percent of cases happened when a child was knowingly left by the caregiver.

“The most common response is that only bad or negligent parents forget kids in cars,” David Diamond, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa who has studied the role memory plays in these cases and has worked with KidsAndCars.org, told Consumer Reports. “It’s a matter of circumstances. It can happen to everyone.”

Mykhailo Polenok/EyeEm/Getty Images

I know what you're thinking—"That'd never happen to me." But, unfortunately, Dr. Diamond's research has discovered "Forgotten Baby Syndrome," where a parent is sort of on autopilot completing tasks as usual but, due to a lapse of memory, can forget the child is in the car. This is akin to putting coffee on the top of your car before getting in and accidentally driving away—with the coffee left spilled behind. It's how a completely responsible, loving parent could make a devastating mistake.

On top of this, stress—and let's not forget sleep deprivation, which many new parents experience—can exacerbate things. "It affects how our prefrontal cortex functions and makes it more likely we'll do something out of habit," Dr. Diamond told Parents.com previously. After reviewing the cases of dozens of parents who unintentionally left their child in the car, he found that something in their routine was a little different that day.

"Once you've driven from Point A to Point B enough times, you can do it without thinking," Dr. Diamond said. "You might not even remember the trip. But it's common to drive right past the store and come home. When your partner says, 'Where's the milk?' you feel flustered because you remember the conversation, but for some reason you came home instead."

Here's what parents should keep in mind during the summer months and when temperatures spike to prevent hot-car injury and death:

  • The temperature inside a car rises faster than you'd think—a car's temperature can rise by 20 degrees in 10 minutes.
  • Cracking a car's window's doesn't cool things off or slow down a heating car.
  • Never leave your child unattended in a car, even if it's not that hot out; children have suffered from heatstroke in 57-degree weather.
  • Children's bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Pay extra attention to children in rear-facing car seats, who may be out of sight, more likely to fall asleep, and less likely to communicate.
  • Lock your car and keep keys out of reach of children so they can't accidentally get in without you.

Remember, it's not just negligent parents who leave their kids in hot cars. It's better to be safe than sorry and get into the routine of double-checking before you exit your vehicle.

Comments (3)

Anonymous
August 29, 2020
Forgetting your coffee on top of your car, or forgetting to get milk on the way home, is THE most preposterous analogy I have ever heard in response to LEAVING a child in a car. NOT "Forgetting". LEAVING. I can confidently say that EVERY American in this country, at some point in time in their lives, can admit to "forgetting to pick something up on the way home", or, "forgot their coffee (or whatever type of drink) on top of their car and drove away". I can admit to both more times than I can count....but NEVER, and I mean NEVER, did I once, step out of my car and have a "lapse of memory", for even a split second, that my CHILD was in that car WITH me. Sitting right behind me, an arm's length away. Given the reasoning {albeit twisted}, and then the statement, "...it could happen to everyone" quoted by the psychologist in this article, to which, I took amazingly great offense...the fact that my 22 and 12 year old sons are alive today, should be an applaufable feat. I'm not a gambling person by any means, but I WOULD bet on this... Was the mother's PURSE in the house with her, or was IT still in the car, too? Hmmm.... I think I just made bank!
Anonymous
August 28, 2020
You literally have to be a neglectful parent to forget your kids. There are millions of parents that this has never happened to for even a split second because we actually care about our kids. People who are too old to have good memory shouldn’t be having kids and drug users shouldn’t have kids. If you try to make up another reason why you forgot, you’re a liar or a jerk. I’ve never forgotten either of my kids even for a split second and I’ve worked 120 hour weeks multiple weeks in a row. One is a teen now so don’t think “oh you’ll forget eventually.” I just care about them.
Anonymous
August 28, 2020
You literally have to be a neglectful parent to forget your kids. There are millions of parents that this has never happened to for even a split second because we actually care about our kids. People who are too old to have good memory shouldn’t be having kids and drug users shouldn’t have kids. If you try to make up another reason why you forgot, you’re a liar or a jerk. I’ve never forgotten either of my kids even for a split second and I’ve worked 120 hour weeks multiple weeks in a row. One is a teen now so don’t think “oh you’ll forget eventually.” I just care about them.