An average of 38 children have died in hot cars each year in the USA since 1998.
And many of these incidents could have been prevented. One simple way to make that happen: leave something you need in the back seat.
If you are driving a child, after you put them in a back seat — in a car seat, booster or buckled in with a seat belt — put your left shoe back there, too.
This year, according to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, 13 children have died after being left in cars, and the summer has just started. Last year 44 children died after being left in hot cars.The heat and holidays give more reason to find a way to prevent more deaths from occurring.
The results of a recent survey, published on the SafeKids.org website stated that:
• 14% of parents have intentionally left their children in a parked car.
• 11% of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car.
• Nearly 1 in 4 parents of a child younger than 3 has forgotten the child in a car.
• Dads are nearly three times more likely than moms to leave a child in a parked car.
Not all deaths were caused because people forgot. Some parents believe cracking the window will make the car cool enough. About 6% of the people in the Public Opinion Strategies survey cited above thought it was OK to let a child stay in a parked, locked vehicle for longer than 15 minutes.
Some deaths are caused because kids get into cars, are trapped and die before anyone discovers them.
Still, a little more than half of all child heat stroke deaths in cars were caused because a parent forgot their child was in the car. The parent is distracted, preoccupied or running on autopilot, like many busy parents of babies and toddlers. The child falls asleep. The parent gets out of the car and leaves the baby behind.
Often the death comes when a parent breaks a routine, safety experts say.
For Reginald McKinnon of Cape Coral, Fla., it was picking up his daughter Payton from day care and taking her to the doctor. After the appointment he put her in the rear-facing car seat in the back seat and headed back to work.
He spent the day there not realizing his 17-month-old was still in the back seat. When he opened the door to his SUV to go home, Payton was dead, still strapped into her seat.
McKinnon was sentenced to five years of probation and community service for Payton's March 2010 death. He is dedicated to honoring Payton's memory by educating parents and friends about the risk of hyperthermia when children are left in cars.
In Phoenix, Daniel Bryant Gray, 33, was sentenced June 20 to four years in prison followed with seven years probation after he left his 3-month-old son, Jamison, last year in a car parked outside a bar where Gray worked.
The day before in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Samantha Harper pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted aggravated child neglect in the hot-car deaths of her two 2-year-old, Savannah Marise, and 3-year-old, Daniel Marise. She was sentenced to 16 years in jail and will have to serve eight years before being eligible for probation.
The same day in Marietta, Ga., Justin Ross Harris, 33, was booked on murder charges after he told investigators that he forgot to drop his son at day care and went to work instead. On his drive home, he discovered that his 22-month-old son, Cooper, had died in the back seat.
And Steven Lillie, 31, was arrested June 20, four days after his 9-month-old daughter, Anna Marie Lillie, died after being left in a hot pickup truck in Rockledge, Fla.
What will work is some kind of system that won't fail to remind a person a child is in the back seat.
In 2012 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a report, "Reducing the Potential for Heat Stroke to Children in Parked Motor Vehicles: Evaluation of Reminder Technology." It found reminder and detection devices to be unreliable and required too much effort from caregivers for them to operate.
Putting something on the back seat as a reminder isn't a new idea. Safety groups have been pushing it for years telling people to put something you will need when you reach your destination.
You may not always have your laptop, your purse, or your cellphone. But you do always have a shoe.
So when you put your kid in the back, put your left shoe back there, too.