The tragic consequences of leaving children behind in hot, parked cars

This past weekend the Washington Post featured a wonderful, albeit tragic, story about parents who leave their children behind in hot, parked cars for hours. Every year, 15-25 children die from these parental mistakes. The question beneath all of the individual stories was this: Should this kind of absentmindedness be a crime? Among the 516 comments are examples of nudges that can prevent these kinds of future tragedies.

  • Several products are available to remind a parent if a child remains in a car seat after the car is turned off. One of the more popular is Cars-N-Kids Car Seat Monitor, which turns on upon sensing a child’s weight and sounds a lullaby when the car has stopped; it retails for about $40 and is available online.
  •, an advocacy group for child vehicle safety, urges some basic measures to prevent the tragedy of children being inadvertently left in vehicles: 1) Always put something you’ll need for work — cellphone, handbag, employee badge, etc. — on the floor of the back seat, near the child. 2) Keep a large teddy bear in the child’s car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the teddy bear up front in the passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder that anytime the teddy bear is in the passenger seat, the child is in the back. 3) Make arrangements with your child’s day-care provider or babysitter that you will always call them if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled. Ask them to always phone you if your child does not show up when expected.
  • Keep your car key separate from your house and office keys. When you put your kid in the back seat, put your office and house keys back there too. Put your cell phone and blackberry back there while you’re at it.
  • “I have two thoughts on ways to add more “Swiss cheese” layers of defense. One: each parent develops a system of wearing a badge or string or something when the kid is in the car, like the person who talked about their company’s lock-up procedures. Two: drive with the windows cracked a little, even during summer when the A/C is on (but not cracked too much; you don’t want your car stolen with the baby inside, either). Sure, it’s energy inefficient, but even if the horrible happens and the baby is forgotten, I’d think that’d buy him/her a few precious hours for the parent to realize their mistake or for a passerby to notice.

Hat tip: Hugo Mercier

4 Responses to “The tragic consequences of leaving children behind in hot, parked cars”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Para todos aquellos que están buscando un sitio donde poder anunciar sus vehículos para venderlos de manera totalmente gratuita o para quellos que desean encontrar un vehículo para comprar. Especialmente para las personas residentes en Sevilla y Huelva.

  2. Mike Says:

    It’s definatly not a good thing to leave your child or pet alone in a hot car any ideas to help people to remember this is a push in the right direction as far as im concerned

  3. Education Games for kids Says:

    Hi, this is Victoria from Education Games For
    Do you think it would be a good idea to have car stickers, with a good caption to drive the message forward. Its easy to do, doesn’t cost much, and could save life’s. What do you think?

  4. CarlInTO Says:

    “Every year, 15-25 children die from these parental mistakes.” – Not being a parent, maybe I’ve got the wrong mindset but is the millions of dollars that will probably be spent on this almost infinitesimal risk (To me, anything near, or less than, the odds of getting struck by lightening is risk-less –, &, worth the lives saved? Especially, when taking a mandatory driving course every few years could save some percentage of the HUNDREDS to THOUSANDS of children killed on our highways? Not to mention in falls, choking, etc., and other “home-safe-home” accidents! “Ten years ago, during a routine checkup, my doctor asked me if I had a gun in the house. He thought that having a gun in the house was a serious hazard to my young children. Now, according to economist Steven D. Levitt, yearly in the U.S. “there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns.” Levitt also observes that yearly there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential swimming pools. So why didn’t the doctor ask me if I had a swimming pool? Why do people people grossly overestimate the danger of trivial risks, while ignoring the danger of greater ones? Why do I see obese people smoking cigarettes slopping on sunscreen to avoid skin cancer? Why do people who spend hours driving to work each day on busy freeways worry about dying in an airplane crash? cripes, auto accidents and falls kill 25 times more people in the U.S. each year than airplane crashes and firearms accidents combined. So what’s wrong with these people? I want to hit them on the head with a bat.”

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