Fatal distraction: another child dies after being forgotten in the backseat of a car

By Efrosini Costa

Fatal distraction: another child dies after being forgotten in the backseat of a car
A NZ toddler's tragic death in the backseat of a car has us looking at ways to stop these preventable tragedies.

The mother of a 16-month-old boy who died after being left in a car at Whanganui Hospital had to be taken to hospital in a wheelchair.

“The poor lady, she didn’t even make it up the steps,” a witness, who was at the hospital with her own son at the time, told reporters.

“She got carried in soon after her son was taken through the waiting room. She was wheeled through in a wheelchair. It wasn’t quiet . . . she was clutching her chest and screaming.

“It’s just a scene that I will probably live with forever.”

The New Zealand woman, a member of the hospital’s staff, had intended to drop her young son at the nearby Noah’s Ark Early Learning Centre that morning.

It was only hours later, when she called the childcare centre and was told that her son hadn’t been dropped off, that she realised the toddler was, tragically, still in her car.

Reports have surfaced that the mother did not usually take the child to the centre on Fridays, but had no other choice that day as the child’s father was called to work and unavailable to do the usual morning drop off.

Temperatures in Whanganui  on that hot summer’s day reached 26 degrees celsius leaving no doubt that the young boy died from heat exhaustion.

David Newman, the president of the Paediatric Society of New Zealand,  told media that the temperature inside a car can more than double in just 30 to 45 minutes making it unbearable for a child.

“Most vehicles heat up very rapidly in the sun. Even on a relatively mild day of 21C, the internal temperature of a vehicle can get to around 49C in about half to three-quarters of an hour,” Dr Newman said adding that cracking the windows down slightly makes little difference.

“In hotter conditions, the inside of a car can get to 60C, and that’s unsurvivable for adults, let alone children, if you’re in there long.”

The local police and the Whanganui  District Health Board have yet to publicly confirm the details of the circumstances that led to the child’s death.

According to safekids.org heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. On average, every 8 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle.

Young children are at more at risk than adults because their bodies heat up three to five times faster.

Sadly, such tragic deaths are completely preventable and organisations are working towards finding ways to help remind parents and carers when a child is the backseat.

In the United States, were more than 40 children have died in hot cars every year since 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a report into reducing the potential for heat stroke to children in parked motor vehicles.

It found that reminder and sensor detection devices could be unreliable and required too much effort from caregivers and parents for them to operate.

An example was an incident in Tennessee, where a man forgot his child at work, only to have his motion-detector car alarm go off three separate times. He looked out his office window all three times but couldn’t see anyone tampering with the car. So he remotely deactivated the alarm and went calmly back to work.

Putting something on the backseat to remind parents to look there is not a new idea. Safety groups and kids organisations have been pushing such strategies for years, telling parents to leave something they will need once they’ve reached their destination in the back seat or boot of the car.

While you may not always have  your laptop, purse or mobile on you in the car, chances are you will always have a shoe.

The idea being that if you left your left shoe in the backseat or boot, once you reached work for example, you would have to physically go to the backseat to put it back on at your destination – alerting you to the child in the backseat.

It’s not hard to imagine how a child can be forgotten in the car. The busy parent is distracted, preoccupied or running on autopilot. The child falls asleep and makes little or no sound and the  parent gets out of the car and leaves the baby behind unaware.

Often the deaths come when a parent breaks a routine, such as the case in the story of the recent toddler death in New Zealand.

So while the shoe idea may sound a little unusual perhaps it is worth examining, especially if it could save a life.

Would you try the shoe idea next time your drive around with your toddler? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.


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