Statistically, it's barely even a blip: Each year across the United States, fewer than 40 children and infants die from heatstroke after being left in cars, well under 1 percent of those who die overall. But as a heat wave crawls across the United States, it can be hard for parents of small children not to think about the worst-case scenario.
Parenting is a volatile combination of hope and fear, and there are few fears more potent than losing a child to a simple, straightforward, personal error – one that we've all made on multiple occasion when the stakes are lower, e.g. a bag of groceries containing heat-sensitive dairy products.
Add the powerful (and almost universal) error multiplier of parental sleep deprivation to the mix, and you have a highly unlikely – but absolutely terrifying – situation as grim as a well-written horror film.
A recent Times of Israel blog post by Sarah Tuttle-Singer digs into the situation from the perspective of a mom who, "but for the grace of God," almost lost her son by forgetting him (briefly) in the car. If you're a parent of a small child, read it. It'll give you some straightforward practical tips for how to avoid doing it yourself.
A couple stray thoughts that Ms. Tuttle-Singer didn't cover:
1) Technology got us into this mess, it can get us out
The put-your-babies-in-the-back-facing-backwards rule that was spurred in part by child-smiting front seat airbags makes sense, overall. But it seems likely to have increased the overall number of heatstroke deaths of children in cars by putting them out of sight of their parents, as per this recent San Francisco State University report.
There should be – must be – some reasonably cost effective ways to prevent this by utilizing modern technology. Car seats that text parents when they get over 85 degrees, for example – and local emergency services when they get over 95 – might be one answer.
Or perhaps when car seats are engaged in the car, the car is aware of this, and will actually roll its own windows down and honk its horn if the internal temperature climbs above a safe level.
2) Let's abandon the urge to judge (or even publicly not judge)
Nearly every time a baby or child dies in one of these heatstroke situations, local media explodes with fury, judgment, and "judge not lest ye be judged" contrarian counter-fury.
Aside from being utterly depressing, the rage is pointless. Yes, we shouldn't forget our children in cars. No, posting hostile remarks about it on the Internet probably won't stop it from happening again.