Whether you are on a road trip or your daily commute, there are a few things we can do so we never leave our baby in the car. I actually thought it was illegal in all states to leave a child unattended in a car (especially in hot weather), but apparently less than half of the United States have laws regarding this. Still, it could be construed as neglect if someone reports it and even worse, it could result in harm to your child.
Before having kids I often thought to myself I'll never do that! But, once I had my daughter I ate those words more often than I care to admit. I still would like to believe I would never forget her in the car, but I can understand how it may happen for some people. My daughter is rarely quiet enough to be forgotten and I frequently check the back seat. In fact, when we have a date night and she's left with Gramma, I keep feeling like I've forgotten something and her empty car seat makes my heart beat out my chest!
While I was searching for some data on babies left in hot cars, I found some interesting stats (see source at end of post). It seems that about half of children who die from being in hot cars were “forgotten” whereas less than 20% were intentionally left alone. I still think that's a high number – too high to risk leaving my baby in the car on a hot summer day (or any day really), but most deaths since 1998 were an accident.
As parents we are often sleep deprived and stretched thin, so I can see how a change in routine may cause someone to forget their sleeping baby is in the back seat. I'm not excusing it, just seeing how it could happen. What did surprise me from the statistics I found was that about 30% of children died due to playing in an unattended vehicle – they weren't supposed to be in there!
Here are some tips to keep your little one safe by not leaving them in an unattended vehicle:
- Stop thinking “I'd NEVER” and start thinking about prevention. If you think you'd never do something, you won't prepare yourself to avoid it.
- Make it a habit to look in the backseat every time you get out of the car.
- Put a sticker or a message hanger on the rearview mirror that will remind you to check the back.
- Always lock the doors after the last passenger gets out.
- Don't leave the car unlocked this way kids can't get into it without you knowing.
- Teach children that empty cars are not a place to play.
- Leave your purse, diaper bag, work bag, etc in the back seat next to your child. Something you would instantly feel “naked” without when getting out of the car.
- Use a visual reminder on your keychain.
- Use a reminder device.
- Avoid errands where taking the kid(s) in and out will be an issue so you aren't tempted to leave them.
- Pay at the pump when fueling up.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and is intended to be a helpful guide. If you have any tips to add, please do so in the comment section below!
I think ultimately awareness and the habit of checking each time you get out (regardless of whether or not a child is with you) will be the most effective. While visual cues and other reminders may help you to remember, if you don't use them regularly you could slip back into forgetfulness. There are a couple reminder products I have been introduced to such as the ChildMinder Smart Clip System by Baby Alert International.
The ChildMinder Smart Clip System uses technology to help prevent leaving a child alone in the car while strapped into their car seat. One part is to attach to your key ring (though I found it to be too large for this to be convenient), the other part replaces the car seat's chest clip. When clipped together a button activates it so the device will beep when you (with the other part) get 15 feet away from the clip. When you unclip it, it deactivates.
I can see how this may be helpful for some people – an alarm seemed like a great idea to me initially. However, I am not comfortable with replacing the chest clip that comes with the car seat and this could void the seat's warranty. There is question of the safety of “after market” products used on car seats (anything one adds to the seat that it didn't come with because it was not tested with them by the manufacturer). I like the concept, but I would like to see an alternate way to clip the system to the seat. One still must remember to activate it and check the batteries, but some people would do well with a reminder alarm, I think.
Another system I have seen is purely visual, but one part attaches to the side of the car seat while the parent has a piece on their key chain. When the child is put into their seat, you unclip a long yellow strip from the child's car seat and attach it to the keychain. This is supposed to remind you that the kiddo is in the back when you take your keys out of the ignition. Again I like the concept, but I can see forgetting to switch the pieces around and how tedious it could be.
Data and information regarding laws and deaths – Source: Jan Null, CCM, Department of Geoscience, San Francisco State University, http://ggweather.com/heat/ – updated on an ongoing basis.
Disclosure: I received a Childminder Smart Clip System to review. No other compensation was received. My honest thoughts are shared based on my experience with the product.
Get weekly sanity saving parenting tips, recipes, and kids activities.