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How Do We Prevent Hot Car Deaths for Children?

A 2-year-old died Wednesday in a hot car in what a Mississippi sheriff is calling a tragic accident.

It’s the time of year that we begin hearing about this kind of story more and more often.

Yesterday, a Mississippi mother drove from work to her daughter’s daycare to pick her up at the end of the day. As the sheriff’s office tells it, the mother walked into the daycare to pick up her child, but daycare workers told her she hadn’t dropped off her daughter that morning.

The woman became distraught, then ran out to her SUV and made a horrific discovery: her daughter was unresponsive in her car. Apparently, as far as anyone can tell, the mother, who was not being identified, forgot to drop off her daughter at daycare that morning, and the 2-year-old died in the backseat of the car after outside temperatures reached somewhere around 80 degrees for the day.

Sheriff Randy Tucker summed it up this way for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

It looks like a tragic accident. I can’t see any way to look at it than that at this point, based on what we know.

As is always the case, people on social media immediately began lambasting the mother with questions like, “How do you forget your own child?”

I’m not a parent, so some would immediately claim I’m not qualified to make such a statement. But I’m qualified from having seen this story repeat itself over and over again, year after year, to suggest that it’s definitely possible.

If you’re a parent, you will likely insist it could never happen to you. For all we know, this mother would have made the same statement before yesterday.

I’m not here to blame the mother.

The sheriff’s office says it doesn’t even plan to file charges. Maybe that ought to tell you something about our own human nature these days, about how generally distracted we are, and about how easy it must be — because we’re so caught up in life itself — that such a moment of forgetfulness can happen.

There was a time when children rode in the front seat with their parents. That’s how it was when I grew up.

Experts decided that it wasn’t safe enough, saying child carseats belonged in the backseat. So that was legislated. Now in most, if not all jurisdictions, it’s illegal to place a child’s carseat in the front seat.

But we drive bigger vehicles now. We drive big SUVs where you can’t even see the backseat from the front seat. And we’re distracted.

Apparently, in some cases, just distracted enough for a tragic accident to happen.

Maybe it’s time for vehicle manufacturers to look at the problem differently.

Maybe, rather than saying it’s safer to stow the kids out of sight, they should begin with a different premise: we have to make children in their carseats safe in the front seat right next to their mother or father.

Since history has shown a caring parent can be so overwhelmed by what’s going on in their lives that they can forget their child sleeping quietly behind them in a car seat, maybe we alleviate that problem by making safer cars that allow the child to move next to them.

Or maybe we redesign cars and car seats so that the car can recognize when there’s a backseat passenger and is smart enough to sound a loud buzzer as soon as the car is put into park. Maybe that aural reminder might be enough to help parents focus.

It’s easy to sit back and say parents shouldn’t forget their child is in the backseat.

But it’s also easy to see, in our complicated, multi-tasking world, that it keeps happening.

What do you think would solve the problem?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.