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Anyone (Even You) Could Forget a Kid in a Hot Car: Here’s Why

By Emily Ramirez

We need to stop being smug about hot car deaths.

Saying “that would never happen to me” or “what kind of monster forgets their baby in a car” is a gut reaction, made both out of a desire to protect yourself from the hurt, and as a way to assure yourself that because you’re on your parenting game, you’ll never have to personally experience it.

But this reaction is dangerous because it could happen to you.

The truth is this horrible, unimaginable tragedy happens to everyday good parents. Just like you. Just like me.

On average, between 20 and 37 kids in the US die every year from heat stroke. Every single one of these deaths is preventable. I’m positive that if you were to ask these grieving parents if they ever thought something like this could happen to them, they’d have answered with a resounding “no.” (This obviously does not pertain to the small portion of vile people who do this with the intention of murdering their kid. There’s a special circle in hell for folks like that.)

Saying “that would never happen to me” may make you feel better about the situation, but in no way does it serve as a reliable precaution that will keep something like this from actually happening.

We take precautions to keep other tragic accidents from harming our kids.

We buy baby gates to keep them from tumbling down the stairs. We install locks on the windows to keep them from posing a fall risk. We put outlet covers on our electrical sockets and lower the temperature of our water heaters. We secure our dressers and bookshelves from being toppled over. Yet when it comes to the very real possibility of mistakenly leaving your kid in the car, many simply believe no preventative measures must be taken because it would never happen to you.

The lives of 33 kids were cut short in 2022, and we are left wondering how such a thing could happen.

Each case is different, but in general, these are some common themes:

  • According to the National Safety Council, incidents peek between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though caution should be used year round.
  • Stress and fatigue can contribute to mistakes as the brain’s “habit” memory (the autopilot part) overrides the “prospective” memory (the part that remembers a future task, like taking a kid out of the car). This makes it easy to forget things that are out of routine. Statistics show these tragedies often occur when the normal schedule and routines have been thrown off (think, different parent or caretaker, dropping a kid off at daycare).
  • While trends show the temperature outside is typically above 80 degrees, a baby succumbed to fatal heat stroke after being locked in a truck for 1 hour in 67-degree weather.
  • The vast majority of these were children under the age of one.

So what do we do to ensure our child isn’t the next victim?

For starters, we drop the “it would never happen to me” mentality. It could happen to you. Yes, this is scary to admit, but none of us are perfect, and all of us are exhausted/stressed/busy as hell/hanging on to our sanity by an itty-bitty thread.

Next, we take some precautions to prevent hot car deaths.

By working with spouses and caretakers, and establishing a routine with how you take your kids in and out of your car, you can help to reduce the chance of an accident like this happening. Your routine may look different, but these are some places to start:

  • Leave something you need (like your left shoe, wallet, or your phone) in the backseat of the car. (And y’all, don’t even START with the “your phone shouldn’t be more important than your kid” thing. It’s not about importance, it’s about doing something consistent that makes you look before you lock.)
  • Have a protocol set up with your daycare where if the child isn’t dropped off or is late, someone contacts you.
  • Keep a stuffed animal (or something similar) in the car seat, and every time you put the child in, bring the stuffed animal into the front with you.
  • Make a “look before you leave” routine before you get out of the car.
  • There is technology being developed to alert the driver of the potential of a child being left behind, but not all cars have it.
  • Keep your car locked at all times so your kid can’t accidentally climb in it. (This one is huge – in the kids older than one, several had accidentally locked themselves in the car.)
  • If you can’t find your child, first check the pool (if you have one), and then the car, including the trunk.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not always a result of stupidity, or a busy parent, wrapped up on their phone. A couple of brave souls have opened up to discuss their own experiences with forgetting their baby in the car, and explain the circumstances here and here. Both stories have happy endings and are worth a read if you can’t fathom how this could happen.

Brushing off the potential of an accident like leaving your kid in the car with the “that would never happen to me” response is dangerous. Changing your mindset from thinking you’re immune to accidents like this, to admitting accidents like this can happen to anyone brings it to the forefront of your mind. Hopefully this shift can make the difference between a normal day, and a tragedy beyond measure.

Related: 9 Common Car Seat Mistakes that Parents Make

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