When Max was a tot, I never heard a peep from the back seat when we were driving. I'd despair about his lack of babbling, as I knew speech was going to be a challenge for him. I never imagined that the silence could endanger his life. Children who are nonverbal or who have intellectual disability are at risk of being forgotten in cars, as babies and sleeping children are—and could die from heatstroke. This is on my mind because of a new awareness initiative from The Weather Channel to prevent hot-car deaths.
Children with disabilities may also have issues with body temperature control, exacerbating the hazards of a burning-hot car. Still, every child who ends up in this situation faces a risk of death. If the temperature outside is 84 degrees, after 10 minutes an interior car temperature can rise to 103 degrees, The Weather Channel estimates; after 30 minutes, it hits 118 degrees (its Scorching Car Scale airs during summer mornings).
Last year, 43 children in this country die from overheating in a vehicle, according to the nonprofit KidsandCars.org. You may wonder how this could happen if a parent is a responsible one. It often occurs when parents bypass their usual routine—say, they don't drop a child off at daycare and drive directly to their office, leaving their little one in the backseat. One of the most insightful and heartbreaking pieces I've read on the topic ran in Parents: You'd Never Forget Your Child in the Car, Right?
The weather may still be relatively mild in most parts of the country, but it's never too early to be thinking about this. The more safety habits parents get into year-round, the safer children will be. The Weather Channel offers these protection tips:
1. Be extra alert when your routine changes.
2. Leave a toy on the front seat that you'll notice as you park.
3. Place something you'll need in the back seat. Karen Osorio-Martinez—a scientist whose one-year-old, Sofia, died last August in the car Karen had driven to work—just launched a nonprofit to encourage safe habits that can save baby's lives. One of them is "Bag in the Back"—getting in the habit of always putting an essential item like a purse, briefcase, phone, computer or backpack in the back seat, so you'll remember to take your child out.
4. Position a child's car seat in the middle of the back seat so it's easier to see the kid. (I Googled this and surprisingly, the middle of the back seat is consider safer than behind the front seats).
5. Set up a system with your child care provider to confirm if a child was or wasn't dropped off.
6. Check the back seat every time you get out of your car—aka "Look before you lock."
7. Discuss hot car deaths with every person who drives your child.
Another safety measure you can take: Waze has a "child reminder" option you can turn on in "Advanced settings" (under "General") and add a personal message. Each time you arrive at a destination you've entered into the app, the message crops up. My reminder looks like this:
And of course: If you see a child alone in a car, do not hesitate to call 911.