Johnny had just received his brand new driver’s license. The family goes out to the driveway and climbs into the car where he is going to take them for a ride for the first time. Dad heads for the rear seat directly behind the new driver. “I’ll bet you’re back there to get a change of scenery after all those months of sitting in the front passenger seat teaching me how to drive,” says the beaming boy to his father. “Nope,” comes dad’s reply, “I’m gonna sit here and kick the back of your seat as you drive, just like you’ve been doing to me all these years.”
The backseat auto problem today is not one of fighting with the noisy child behind you, but of forgetting the quiet one that is not in the front with you. In the last 15 years in North America, 625 infants have died from in-car heat exposure with over half of those deaths being the result of driver memory-lapse of a child on board. And as Janette Fennell of Kids-And-Cars reminds us, “In 90% of these cases, the tragedy happened not to an addicted mother or abusive father, but to the very best of parents (professors, ministers, lawyers, nurses, teachers), the pillars of our society. The child-safety advocate adds that one of the main reasons for this is the moving of children from the front-seat to the back-seat after airbag discharges began killing more and more youngsters. A chart by Fennell shows a remarkable inverse relationship between the decline of airbag deaths among children and a corresponding increase in the number being killed by heatstroke. She adds, “I’m not saying this created the memory problem, but it certainly has added to it.”
And so this past month in Halton, a 52-year-old grandmother totally forgot about her two-year-old grandson sleeping in the back seat of the car and he then died from the intense heat inside. Then less than 24-hours later, the same thing happened in the nearby town of Milton, but fortunately someone saw the two-year-old inside the vehicle and called police who were able to rescue the girl and get her to emergency in time.
(A car parked in the sun can quickly soar inside to 50 degrees Celsius and little bodies are three to five times more heat sensitive than are adult bodies.)
Now, while leaving a child alone in a vehicle is not against the law, it can be considered negligence in the eyes of child protection services. And the Criminal Code of Canada states, “Anyone who abandons or exposes a child under ten years of age so that its health or life is endangered is guilty of an offence carrying an imprisonment of not less than two years.”
So what is the solution – especially with the rise of the rear-facing child seat hiding the little one even more from front view? Auto makers are working on a car seat that sends out a signal if a little one is left too long in the seat of a stopped auto. It can be programmed to give out a timed warning, say: first to a key chain, then to a cell phone, followed by to a family member, and finally to 911, using GPS to provide the location. Until then, experts suggest – if you’re going to be transporting a child in a car-seat, put something pink or blue on your ignition key, so when you do reach for it to turn off the engine, it reminds you to think, “Is a child on board?”
The bottom line? Just as the backseat of a car should be checked before getting into, so too after getting out.