It's difficult for any parent to hear the tragic news of a child passing away from being left in a hot car, but according to a recent survey conducted by Kars4Kids, it's a topic we should continue to talk about. On average, 37 children die every year as a result of being left in the car by a parent or guardian, but as it stands, most moms and dads never expect this tragedy to happen to them — and that's a big problem.
Researchers asked 2,500 parents if they thought they could ever potentially leave a child in a hot car, and only 16 percent of participants said they were concerned it could happen to them. To capture just how parents reacted to the question, Kars4Kids decided to ask moms and dads on video. The overwhelming response? "Absolutely not," in various forms ranging from "I am an intelligent person who would NOT forget!" to "I don't understand how I could forget them."
The survey also found that parents are quick to judge others who have made the fatal mistake. According to the results, 78 percent of parents think that moms or dads who accidentally leave their children in the car are "irresponsible" and "unfit to be a parent."
But some experts believe that parents are actually at a way higher risk for leaving their child in a hot car than they think — and it has nothing to do with whether or not they're a good parent. Dr. David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, explained that the act of forgetting a child in the car can be caused by different parts of your brain competing with each other.
"We all experience when we have a plan to do something in the future and then we forget to complete that plan," he told NBC in a 2017 interview.
He explained that the trouble crops up when the basal ganglia — or the brain center responsible for your subconsciousness — competes with the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, two areas of the brain that regulate a person's active stream of thought and decision-making, as well as planning for the future.
"Any person is capable of forgetting a child in a car."
"In the case of you driving home, your basal ganglia wants to get you from Point A to Point B, to the point it can suppress your hippocampus," explained Dr. Diamond. "[People] say you can forget to stop at the store, but you don't forget your child is in the car. I get that feeling completely. I get that argument, but you can't argue with brain function."
He gave a practical example of how this mix-up might occur. "When you drive home and don't normally take a child to daycare, when you have a habit and you are normally driving home from work — and in those subsets, or maybe none at all, take a child home — well, what happens in all these cases, the parent goes into autopilot mode, which is typically from home to work," said Dr. Diamond. "It's in that subset of cases the basal ganglia is taking you on a route that does not include a child. The twist is, they did not stop at daycare on the way, but the brain creates false memory the child was at daycare. If the child isn't in the car, that child must be where the child belongs, and the parents go to work with absolute certainty the child is safe."
So anyone who truly believes this could never happen to them might want to think again.
"Any person is capable of forgetting a child in a car under circumstances where a parent is going through a routine and the child is in the back," said Dr. Diamond. "All those components, if they come into play, a child can die."
Although most people don't think they're at risk, it's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes down to your child's health. Parents should safeguard themselves as much as possible by leaving important items such as their phones or bags in the back of the car or using the teddy bear trick — when the driver moves a teddy bear from their child's car seat to the passenger seat to remind them that their child is in the back of the vehicle.