Psychologist: First step in preventing hot car death is admitting it can happen to you

Image 1 of 2

So far this year, nine children have died after being left in vehicles in the searing Florida heat. The latest was this week when a four-month-old little girl was forgotten inside a van at a Jacksonville daycare.

USF Psychology Professor David Diamond Ph.D. says forgetfulness is simply part of being human, but, in rare occasions, forgetfulness can be deadly.

"We make mistakes, and we make tragic memory mistakes, so this truly can happen to anyone," Diamond said.

Parents become distracted while driving and accidentally forget their child is in the backseat.

"They had every intention to stop at day care, to take their child there, and as they're driving they go into an autopilot mode,” explained Diamond. “We have a brain memory system that puts us into that autopilot mode, and in fact what it does is it suppresses our conscious memory system so that we're more likely than to do something out of habit."

That means if your routine is to drive from home to work, you could park and walk inside completely unaware you planned to drop off your child.

It happens quickly, quietly, and far too often. According to, 52-children died last year after being left in hot vehicles and Florida is the second leading state for hot car deaths.

It doesn't have to be sweltering for tragedy to strike. Children can die from heatstroke when it's as cool as 60-degrees outside. Even in that weather, after sitting in the sun, the temperatures inside your car can be deadly.

Diamond says prevention starts with parents accepting this can happen to them.

"This is a failure of brain function; it's not a failure of love," Diamond said.

Giving yourself visual clues like putting the diaper bag on the passenger seat or leaving your purse or cellphone in the back can help re-activate the brain of a parent on the go.

Better yet, Diamond says automakers should be required to add safeguards that will alert the driver to check the backseat.

"What we've got to have is a national law, a mandate that new cars have this technology that can detect that there’s a child in the car when you exit the car?" he wondered.

U.S. lawmakers plan to introduce The Hot Cars Act of 2019 in the next few weeks. The proposed legislation aims to get lifesaving technology in all new cars, alerting drivers to check the backseat.