Here are 7 tips – from the National Safety Council and other sources – on how parents can safeguard against lapses that could lead to tragedy.
- Never leave a child alone in a car, even with the windows partially open. It is certainly tempting to think you can just quickly dash into a store, complete a transaction in a couple of minutes and come right back without the hassle of dealing with kids in a store. But Murphy’s Law is in full force and effect. Anything that can go wrong, sooner or later will go wrong. Even if you are as quick as you expect to be and your child is perfectly safe, a concerned bystander may call 911, setting off a nightmare of dealings with police and Child Protective Services. Just don’t do it. Ever.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child seat, and move it to the front passenger seat when you place the child in the seat. This simple visual cue can remind you that the child is in the car when you park.
- Always put the child’s diaper bag in the front passenger seat. Another failsafe visual reminder can help.
- Always put your cell phone, briefcase, purse – or one or both of your shoes — in the back seat. That will force you to always look in the back seat – and see the child if one is there – before leaving the vehicle.
- If you have a change of routine about dropping off a child at day care, establish a pattern of having the other parent — or a grandparent or friend — call to check in after drop-off time. It doesn’t have to be nagging, but a sweet, simple call or text message to ask how the child handled the change of routine can be a valuable backup for fallible parental memory.
- Ask day care to call both parents if the child is not dropped off at the usual time. That backup can save a life. Having been chairman of the board of a church-based child development center, I am confident most would want to help in that way, but they get busy too so that should not be your sole backup.
- Always glance in each seat before leaving the vehicle. If you are retrieving your cell phone, briefcase or purse from the back seat, the visual check will become automatic. Just a quick scan is all it takes.
- Never let children play in and around cars. Heat stroke is only one of the ways kids can get hurt. When I was five, my very caring grandfather left me in his car while he checked on a crew at a construction site. I moved to the driver’s seat to play like I was driving, released the parking brake and rolled downhill into a ditch. Granddaddy was more scared than I was.
- Consider new devices to remind drivers of children in car seats. An 11-year-old in Tennessee invented a simple device for this purpose, made of rubber bands and duct tape. With rising awareness of the problem, I expect entrepreneurs will get other devices to market.