From the Left



Is Your Car Childproof?

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

Signs along the highway read, "Never Leave a Child or Pet Alone in a Car." But as summer heat grips much of the country, seven children in the U.S. have already died this year from pediatric vehicular heatstroke because they were left unattended in cars.

Public reaction when a child dies this way is usually judgmental. We want to remove ourselves as far as possible from something so horrific. We think, "How can a parent forget their child is in the car?" But I know how.

When I was a kid, my dad drove me to school every morning. At a certain stoplight, Dad had a choice. He could turn right and take me to school, or he could go straight and continue on to his office. So many times, the light would turn green, and my dad would continue straight, with me sitting right next to him in the front seat. I would say, "Dad ... " and he would curse and turn the car around.

Parents are busy. New parents especially are stressed and exhausted. It takes its toll. You must understand how ridiculous it sounds to the parents when they have to answer to the authorities. They had just made the ultimate mistake, and all they could come up with is the horrific utterance, "I forgot."

We're not talking about malice here. "We're talking about how our brain functions," says Cassandra Herring, child passenger safety technician instructor and program manager for Safe Kids Worldwide.

We've all experienced on some level how our brains operate on autopilot. Driving someplace with no recollection of how we got there is one example. "There is such a stigma around this," stresses Herring, "conveying that this could happen to anyone is important." This has happened in different locations and to people from all walks of life. "We have to get rid of the assumption that these people are bad people," says Herring. It is the only way to truly talk about prevention.

The pandemic has thrown a wrench in everyone's habits and routines, so now more than ever, we need to be diligent; we have to talk about it; and we have to create reminders for ourselves. Infants fall asleep in the car. They get quiet and remove all cues of their presence. In a rear-facing car seat, you cannot even see that your baby is in the seat. As a new parent, we must create new habits around the baby's care.


Talk about it with your spouse and others in your support system. The conversation can feel weird, but just by talking about it, you heighten awareness and maybe save a life. It's not accusatory to suggest that we have safety reminders. We create reminders for everything else in our lives. We childproof our house, put locks on cabinets and install baby gates. We must also childproof our car. This means establishing a routine around keeping your child safe while in the car. Set an alarm on your phone for day care drop-off so if you arrive to work on autopilot, it reminds you. Place personal items like your cellphone or purse on the back seat so it forces you to return to the back seat when you arrive.

Create routinized cues that make sure you remain aware that you are not alone in the car. And be sure to place the car seat in the middle of the back seat. Not only is this the safest place for your child, but it also keeps your child visible in the rearview mirror.

Judgement does not save lives. It's time to talk about prevention instead.


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