Defining the New Conversation: Looking at the Real Numbers

Until this point, legislators, regulators, safety advocates and the general public have focused on the rate of child vehicular heatstroke fatalities each year. However, when parents are advised to place briefcases in the back of cars as reminders, or auto manufacturers add back-up cameras, lane departure warnings, forward collision warnings, and trunk latches in cars, the goal is of course to eliminate injuries and deaths but, also, to MITIGATE RISK of such injuries or deaths. It is impossible to find a solution to mitigate a risk, without first assessing the true magnitude and defining the parameters of the risk.

When most individuals speak the phrase “That would never happen to me,” they are usually right – and I say thanks in a prayer each day for this fact – that out of the many parents whose minds have admittedly tricked them into “forgetting” a child in a car, most are jolted out of their artificial reality quickly enough for no harm to have occurred. Maybe it was 10 minutes taking the groceries into the house, 5 minutes running into Starbucks for some coffee after a long night with a newborn, or 30 minutes (in winter) after turning the wrong direction while driving to daycare and instead driving to the office – but by the grace of God, there was a trigger, their artificial reality was broken – and they carried their little ones back home safely.  

According to a survey of 1,000 parents and caregivers conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington, D.C., 11% of parents (based on U.S. population, that number is projected to be more than 1.5 million parents transporting more than 2.6 million children) say they have forgotten their child in a car. For those with children age 3 and under, it is nearly 25%. (See "New Study: 14% of Parents Say They Have Left A Child Alone Inside Parked Vehicle Despite the Risks of Heatstroke," Safe Kids Worldwide, April 29, 2014). 14% of parents (based on the U.S. population, that number is projected to be nearly 2 million parents) admit to intentionally leaving their child in a car. For those with children age 3 and under, the percentage increases to 23%.

From 2003-2013, documented 5,697 children that were left alone in a vehicle or entered a vehicle on their own, but survived. It is very important to note that this is a drastic underestimate of the actual number of children that are left alone in vehicles. If the child is not seriously injured or killed, the incident is not likely to be reported in any way, which makes it very difficult to determine how often this is actually occurring.

So, THESE are the numbers, showing how often this risk is created. Nearly 25% of parents of children under age 3. Why are numbers twice as high for this age group? I surmise….it is due to rear-facing child seats.

That moment, when you realize your mind has played a trick on you. That moment when you rush out to your car and find your 5 month old sleeping soundly, unaware. Now, that can and does happen to a significant percentage of Americans, and many responsible parents. It has been proven to be the way in which the mind works. Auto manufacturers know it, and that is why technology is progressing at such a rate to mitigate risk created by the fallible human driver, as shown on the web-page titled Safety Challenge for Auto Manufacturers and Government Leaders.