Dear Dr. Debbie,
I see in the news the U.S. Congress is looking at requiring that cars have alert systems to remind a driver that a young child is in the back seat when the car is parked. Seems like a no-brainer. What’s your take on this?
Routinely Frazzled Parent
Don’t miss last week’d column, Getting a dad-to-be on board — Good Parenting
I’m in total agreement. I would rather not have to read about, nor write about, tragic deaths of children in cars that quickly overheat. The proposed legislation is known as Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats, or the HOT CARS Act of 2016. You can follow the bill’s progress here.
The proposed bill would, within two years of its enactment, “require the Secretary of Transportation to issue a rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system.” Such systems would prevent a child from accidentally being left behind much the same way as an audible alert reminds us to remove the key from the ignition.
The national non-profit Kids and Cars is an advocacy group that strives to protect children in and around cars. Its founder Janette Fennell led the push for escape handles in car trunks after she and her husband were kidnapped by robbers. Today she keeps abreast of these all too frequent tragedies (about 37 children die in hot cars per year) and the efforts to prevent them. The organization hopes parents and other child advocates will encourage support of this bill, providing phone numbers to the sponsoring congressmen on the KidsandCars webpage.
This is not an issue of negligent parenting, but of the normal effects of stresses and distractions that could affect anyone driving a car with a young child in the back seat. As Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post learned from extensive interviews with grieving parents, “It can happen to anybody.” He also interviewed David Diamond, an expert on emotion, stress and memory, who also once almost forgot his grandchild was sleeping in the backseat until his wife reminded him. The way our brains work, says Diamond, is an ongoing competition between immediate problem solving (especially with strong emotion) and routine. Too much on one’s mind can make one less “mindful” of daily routines. An irregular routine, like whose turn it is to drop the baby at the sitter’s, is easily forgotten when a frazzled or excited mind is focused elsewhere.
While we wait for this important legislation to move forward, there are several strategies to keep from forgetting the quiet, precious cargo behind you.
- Keep a teddy bear in the car seat when the baby isn’t in the car, and move it to the front passenger seat when you strap the baby in.
- Put your purse, lunch or other “essential” on the floor by the baby. If you like driving sock-footed, put your shoes back there!
- Instruct your sitter to call you if your child does not arrive at the expected time.
- Always park your car where plenty of people pass by.
Click here for more tips to ensure kids don’t get left in hot cars.
Of course all these routines are still subject to disruption. Which is why we need protective features added to our cars.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.