USF researchers explain how a parent can forget their child in a hot car
TAMPA, Fla. - The Florida heat can be extremely dangerous. If a parent makes a forgetful mistake, it can be deadly, as it was last week for a father who says he forgot his 3-year-old was in the back seat.
The man parked at his workplace, Lubavitch Education Center in Miami Gardens, where he is a rabbi. It's hard for most parents to imagine, but it happens far too often.
"Not only is he having to deal know that he forgot his child in a car that died, he will also be judged very harshly because people don’t understand how it’s possible a parent can forget a child in a car," commented neuroscientist David Diamond, from the University of South Florida.
He didn’t understand either until 15 years ago when he started researching hot car deaths in children.
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"It has happened hundreds of times," says Diamond. "Hundreds of children have died in hot cars to good, attentive, loving parents."
More than a thousand children have died in hot cars since 1990. Florida is second only to Texas in the number of deaths.
The outcome is horrible, but it begins, Diamond’s research shows, when the mind of the parent goes on a kind of autopilot, as they make a typical drive that usually doesn’t include the child.
"During that drive, they loose awareness of the child in the car, so when they get to their destination, to them, this is a normal drive that does not include the child," he said.
Diamond says before his research, he also wondered how any parent could let it happen.
"I was wrong about judging them," he says. "Not only that, I forgot my grandchild in a car."
It happened to Diamond as he was exploring why it happened to others. Fortunately, his wife was there to remind him.
Experts have advice for parents and caregivers.
Diamond says put something from the baby’s car seat, perhaps a toy, up front with you.
"So as you’re driving, you see that object and it is a reminder that your child, on this drive, is in the car, in the back," says Diamond.
Authorities in South Florida are still investigating the Miami Gardens case and whether the father should be charged.