Science Behind Parents Leaving Children in Hot Cars

This Is the Science Explaining How Parents Leave Their Children in Hot Cars

This year, 25 children have died in cars as a result of the heat. And more than 900 children have died in hot cars in the U.S. since 1990. 

How do these incidents happen? David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, works to better understand how. Among other things, he studies the neurobiology of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.” 

RELATED: A Big Push for Hot Cars Act Aims to Stop Child Car Deaths

Diamond’s research on how parents can forget their child in the car led him to two memory systems: prospective, the intent to remember things outside your regular routine, and habit, which is like being on autopilot. 

When a parent forgets a child in a car, prospective memory has failed and habit memory takes over, he concluded. 

The failure of prospective memory ranges from forgetting the cup of coffee you’ve put on top of your car to a cop forgetting their guns were loaded, Diamond gave as examples. 

KidsandCars.org is working to address these preventable deaths. The car safety organization has been working to pass bipartisan legislation in Congress that would require all new passenger cars to include a child safety alarm. The proposed bill would require cars to have audio and visual alerts, as well as a vibration warning, that would all work when the engine has been shut off. 

Janette Fennell, the founder of the organization, told USA Today that they’ve been working on this legislation since 2003; however, their efforts have not moved forward legislatively. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is a co-sponsor of the bill. Blumenthal got involved in the bill after a 15-month-old died in a hot car in Connecticut. The proposed alert systems would remind parents to “look before you lock,” Blumenthal said. 

GM and Hyundai are planning to include these safety devices in their new cars, but many auto companies are still not committed. 

In addition to working on legislation, KidsandCars.org provides some tips for parents to ensure their children are safe. They recommend always opening the back door when parked and remembering to do so by putting an essential item like a purse in the back. They also recommend having daycares/schools call if your child does not arrive on time.

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