Common memory failure pattern may be why parents forget children in hot cars

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Memory failure may be why parents leave children in hot cars
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A common memory failure may be the reason why parents forget children in hot cars.

Nearly 40 children die each year from being left in a hot car, and last year that number was 52.

July and August are typically the deadliest months, but it can happen even with mild temperatures. Consumer Reports explains why this common memory failure really could happen to anyone.

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

"It all fits the same pattern, in which that memory gets suppressed temporarily and we lose awareness of the child in the car," neuroscientist David Diamond said.

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

"We know this is clearly related to the competition between the different brain memory systems. We have a powerful autopilot brain memory system 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," Diamond said.

Consumer Reports explains that even on a mild day it can be dangerous.

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

And because a tragedy like this can happen to anyone, Consumer Reports 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," Thomas said

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," Diamond said. "Give yourself a cue so that when you get out of the car you have that reminder."

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

There's a bill 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.