How can a parent forget their child in the back seat?

17 children have died in hot cars so far this year

SAN ANTONIO – As the summer temperatures rise, so does the risk of children dying in hot cars.   

So far this year, 17 children have died, including three in Texas in the span of three days in June.

How can a parent possibly forget a child in the back seat?

"That memory gets suppressed temporarily, and we lose awareness of the child in the car, " said David Diamond, Ph.D., professor of psychology, at the University of South Florida.

Diamond, a neuroscientist, has studied this memory failure and said it's related to the competition between the different memory system in our brains.

"We have powerful brain autopilot brain memory system that gets us to do things automatically," he said. "And, in that process, we lose awareness of other things in our mind, including that there's a child in the car."

Even on a mild day, the consequences can be tragic. 

A child's body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult's, and they can efficiently regulate their body temperature.

On a hot day, the temperature inside the car can quickly rise to a stifling 120-130 degrees. When a child's body temperature reaches 104, internal organs begin to shut down.  

Child safety advocates, including KidsandCars.org, are pushing Congress to swiftly pass the Hot Cars Act. The legislation would require new vehicles come equipped with technology that would alert the driver if a child is in the back seat after the ignition is cut off.

To prevent hot car tragedies, Consumer Reports' Dr. Emily Thomas suggests parents create a routine with reminders.

"We encourage parents to make a habit every day, putting a laptop, bag or a lunchbox in the back seat even if our child is not with you," she said. "Doing this will force you to visit the back seat after every trip."

Children can also climb into unlocked parked cars and get trapped. So, child advocates advise caregivers to keep cars locked, keep the keys out of the reach of children and to teach children to honk the horn if they become trapped.

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