Consumer Reports: Preventing hot car deaths

Nearly 40 children die each year from being left in a hot car, but last year that number was 52. July and August are typically the deadliest months, but it can happen even when the temperature is mild.

And while you might think you would never forget about a child in the back seat, Consumer Reports says this common memory failure could happen to anyone.

Every nine days, a child left in a hot car dies from vehicular heatstroke.

"It all fits the same pattern - that memory gets suppressed temporarily and we lose awareness that the child is in the car," said Neuroscientist David Diamond from the University of Florida.

Diamond has been studying the science behind this memory failure that can have tragic consequences.

"We know this is clearly related to the competition between the different brain memory systems. We have powerful brain autopilot brain memory system and gets us to do things automatically and it gets us to do things automatically and in that process we lose awareness of other things in our mind, including that there's a child in the car," he said.

Consumer Reports explains that even on a mild day, this can have dangerous, even deadly results.

"The temperature inside a closed vehicle can reach dangerously high levels in less than an hour. This is unsafe for children and small babies because their body temperature rises three to five times faster than adults and they are unable to efficiently regulate their body temperature," said CR's car seat expert, Emily Thomas Ph.D.

And because a tragedy like this can happen to anyone, CR says it's best to create a routine with reminders for yourself every time you drive.

"We encourage parents to make a habit of everyday putting a laptop bag or a lunchbox in the back seat, even if your child is not with you. Doing this will force you to visit the backseat after every trip," said Thomas.

Or keep a sippy cup or your child's coat up front with you.

"Some people go so far as to say put a shoe in the back seat - give yourself a cue so that when you get out of the car you have that reminder," said Diamond.

Consumer Reports also says you should have a plan that your childcare provider or child's school will call you if your child does not show up.

Also be aware that a bill is making its way around congress called the HOT CARS Act. It would require cars to come equipped with technology that alerts drivers if a child is left in the backseat after the ignition is turned off. Consumer Reports says concerned parents can reach out to their federal lawmakers.
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