What would you do if you came out of a store on a hot summer afternoon and saw a small child locked inside a vehicle with the windows rolled up and no adult in sight? Would you call 911 or would you mind your own business and walk away?
Although most people would probably be concerned for the child’s welfare, far too few appear to be concerned enough to take action, as evidenced by recent child heat-related deaths in vehicles.
In Georgia, 22-month-old Cooper Harris was left in a hot car for almost seven hours after his father failed to drop him off at daycare and then drove to work, parking the car where outside temperatures reached 90 degrees. Cooper died, and his father, Justin Harris, now faces murder charges. The car was parked in a busy shopping mall area. Didn’t anyone notice the child in the car at any point during those seven hours?
A 15-month old toddler in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was found dead inside his father’s parked car this past Monday after the child was left unattended “for an extended period of time” according to Ridgefield police. Outside temperatures approached 90 degrees. Again, didn’t anyone notice the child in the car?
These recent headlines have brought renewed attention to these types of tragedies. According to the website KidsandCars.org, “On average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside. Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping baby in a car, and the end result can be injury or even death.” Thus far in 2014, 16 infants and small children have died, and there were 44 deaths reported in 2013. But these deaths are preventable.
Experts warn it takes only 10 minutes for temperatures to climb 20 degrees or more in a closed vehicle. Vehicles with windows left partially open do not offer any better protection, becoming ovens in basically the same amount of time. Leaving a child inside a car for even a short period of time can be deadly. Heatstroke, or hyperthermia, is the major cause of death.
Heatstroke occurs when the body cannot cool itself quickly enough as temperatures rise, causing the body’s core temperature to elevate to dangerous levels while shutting down the body’s ability to sweat, making it impossible for cooling to occur. Children are especially susceptible, as their bodies heat up several times faster than an adult’s body.
So how do parents forget their children and leave them in a hot car? According to David Diamond, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida, there is a phenomenon known as Forgotten Baby Syndrome, or FBS.
In cases of FBS, there’s a “clash” between what is called prospective memory and habit memory. Prospective memory helps us plan and execute for an action in the future while habit memory enables us to function in “auto-pilot mode” with minimal conscious effort. According to Diamond, “The prospective and habit brain memory systems compete against each other on a regular basis. For example, a person places a cup of soda on the car roof (prospective memory), removes keys from his pocket and drives off (habit memory), leaving the cup on the roof.”
Diamond, who has studied dozens of cases of FBS, believes that “On the day of the tragedy, the parent follows a well-traveled route, one that rarely or inconsistently includes transporting the child.” FBS allows the parent to be on auto-pilot, guiding them to work or home, while at the same time suppressing the parent’s ability to remember the “presence of the child in the car.” The outcome is often tragic.
So what are some ways to prevent these types of tragedies? KidsandCars.org offers a safety checklist. Tips include never leaving your children alone in or around cars, even for a minute. Keep cars locked and don’t put keys or remotes where children can get easy access to them. When traveling away from home, put something like your purse or cell phone in the back seat so you have to retrieve it, and get in the habit of opening the back door whenever you stop, something KidsandCars.org calls “Look before You Lock.” They also suggest keeping a stuffed toy in the front seat as a reminder of your child in the back seat, and if you must make quick runs to the gas station or bank, use a debit or credit card at the pump and use the drive-through at the bank. Never leave a child unattended.
For those who come upon an unattended child in a locked vehicle, think about what you’d do beforehand. Would you wait around to make sure the child is okay or would you walk away, thinking someone else probably took care of the situation? Would you call 911?
There are many reasons not to get involved, being called a busybody or facing an angry parent’s wrath, but there’s one extremely important reason to get involved—the life of a child may be at stake.
Link to article on network’s website: http://www1.gcnlive.com/CMS/index.php/component/k2/914-baby-it-s-hot-outside-and-in-that-vehicle
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