According to a recent article in USA Today, at least 41 children have died so far this year in the U.S. because absent-minded parents or caregivers left them in cars in hot weather.
NHTSA warns that a car’s windows act like a greenhouse, trapping sunlight and heat. It says cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131° - 172° F when outside temperatures are 80° – 100° F. Within 10 minutes, the temperature in an enclosed vehicle will rise an average of 19 degrees.
Janette Fennell, founder and president of the advocacy group Kids and Cars, notes that the number of children who died in overheated cars increased after laws were passed mandating rear-facing child seats.
She and other safety advocates want automakers to install warning systems that would let people know they have left a child behind, and the advocates are calling on government to force the issue. Solutions are out there, including a baby seat sensor developed by NASA in 2002. Should NHTSA force automakers to provide warning systems – or would that be one more example of unnecessary intrusion by the “nanny state?” If an automaker did offer such a warning system, who would buy it? Who, after all, thinks they would need it?
Why would a parent or caregiver leave a kid in a car on a warm day? Two reasons come to mind. One is that the person doesn’t realize the danger, in which case education really could make a difference – as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers advises. The best idea I heard is to put a briefcase, purse, or cell phone in the back seat close to the child. Make that a habit.
The other possibility, heard most often, is that the caregiver simply forgot that the child was in the car; thought he or she had dropped the child off – just like always. Reading the anonymous comments to articles on this topic, it has clearly struck a nerve. We’ve all been guilty of carelessness at one time or another and sometimes, as in leaving a child in a car on a hot day, the consequences can be tragic. But the idea that the government could force people to pay for a feature necessary to protect other people from their own carelessness sparks a lot of what seems to me to be self-righteous indignation.
In fact, I can’t imagine a term of scorn that comes close to what a caregiver would heap on him/herself were this to happen.
A child has died.