The fact that this tip went viral shows just how many parents worry about preventable hot car deaths caused by forgetting a child in the car.

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In a now-viral TikTok video, Kristy Wilson shows herself driving with only one sandal on. She then parks and walks half-barefoot to the back seat where her infant grandchild waits in a car seat. When she opens the back door, her left shoe falls to the floor from under his chair.

"Why am I driving with only one shoe on?" the grandma starts her video. "Because I have my infant grandson in the car with me and I'd rather deal with the hot pavement than leave my grandson in the car so I leave my shoe in the back."

The backlash to the TikTok grandma was swift. Aside from concern about the safety of driving barefoot—while legal, barefoot driving might not allow you to apply enough pressure to engage the brakes or grip the pedal, according to Geico—users vociferously condemned Wilson's strategy for not forgetting her infant grandson in the back seat of the car as the crutch of an irresponsible caregiver. 

"How can someone forget their child...some pple aren't meant to have kids and if you can simply forget your kid you shouldn't have one [sic]," one comment reads. "If you can't remember you have him in the back then you should not be watching him at all," another commenter posted.

But they're wrong: Hot car deaths are a preventable tragedy and one that can happen to almost anyone. The ubiquity of viral avoidance strategies shows just how many people are terrified of leaving their kids in cars. 

An image of a baby in a car seat.
Credit: Getty Images.

Routine preventable deaths

Around 38 kids die each year after being left in hot cars, according to noheatstroke.org, which tracks such cases. They're officially termed "pediatric vehicular heatstroke." Cars quickly heat up in even moderately warm weather, and kids' small bodies are particularly vulnerable to overheating. According to the New York Times, these deaths became more common in the 1990s, with the rise of safety recommendations to put kids in rear-facing car seats in the back seat.

By and large, these deaths have been ruled accidental—53 percent of the time the kids were forgotten in the car. In another 26 percent of cases, the kids got in the car themselves and became trapped there. Less than 20 percent of such deaths were intentional. Often, a parent or caregiver thinks they've dropped their child off at daycare or taken them in the house, but they haven't. This mental slip is more likely to occur when the baby's fallen asleep in the back and the driver is following a routine, such as heading to work after daycare in the morning. Such a slip is more likely to happen to a tired or stressed-out caregiver. 

The stories are gut-wrenching: In 2019, a father left his one-year-old twins in the backseat of his car during his shift at a hospital. He realized what had happened on his drive home. In 2016, a police officer in upstate New York was doing chores while his son, forgotten in the car, died of heatstroke. In the wake of such incidents, parents can face a variety of criminal charges, which are sometimes controversial.

Avoiding hot car deaths

There are some technical solutions to the problem. General Motors has put "Rear Seat Reminder" technology in many models since 2016, and other automakers have followed suit. Caregivers can also buy alarms that attach to a car seat, and some car seats come with alarms built in. The Hot Car Act of 2019 would have required child warning systems in cars, but it has stalled in Congress repeatedly.  

That's why we're left with parental hacks, and there are many. Some caregivers belt stuffed animals into their passenger seats when they're driving a child. Others put their purse in the back seat, so they have to check the area before moving on with their day. Like Wilson's TikTok hack, the goal is to make it impossible to leave the car without noticing the baby. Using a shoe is certainly extreme, you also have to remember to put your shoe in the backseat before you hit the road, but there's no arguing with its effectiveness.