Fatal Distraction - Feedback Friday

As the temperatures in Pittsburgh have soared into the 80's and 90's this summer, stories have already surfaced detailing the deaths of children forgotten in hot cars. With July being the most deadly month for these tragic accidents, it's worth taking a minute to think about today.

Momlogic Newsletter summarized the 23 children who have died in hot cars already this season. A few sentences summed up each horrible accident, an example of how easy it is to forget what you are doing and leave a helpless child in a hot car.

Mommywords.com compiled a top 10 list for remembering your child in the back seat that might have seemed silly 10 years ago. Before the distractions of satellite radio, built-in DVD players, cell phones, blue tooth, before passenger seat airbags forced parents to only place children in the back seat...The list recommends pasting a note to your dashboard, placing a stuffed animal in the empty passenger seat beside you, leaving your briefcase in the back seat.

Gene Weingarten, from the Washington Post, wrote the award winning article Fatal Mistake last summer. He followed the stories of several such incidents.

What kind of person forgets their child in a hot car? Research suggests that this phenomenon extends to reach all of us, Weingarten goes on to list:

"In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist."

In most cases, something unusual has happened to distract or confuse the responsible adult, causing them to forget about their precious cargo. Many times, the caretaker drives right to the daycare to pick the child up at the end of the day, only to find them dead in the back seat. A change in schedule, an early meeting, a last minute phone call is enough to erase the memory of the sleeping child in the car seat. The results can be devastating.

Weingarten raised an interesting question as he followed several parents, some of whom were prosecuted for their child's death. It's Feedback Friday so tell me...

Forgetting a child in the backseat of a car:
Mistake or Crime?


  1. Crime.

    What can be more important than your child?

    I never let my children sit in the car alone if I need to walk out of sight.

    I always think about what could happen: There might crash a car in mine - and I don't see it and can't help my children.

    Or I could get a heart attack and noone would know that my children sit in the car.

    Or whatever.

    So I take my children always with me, even if I just jump into the grocery store to buy three bananas.

    Yes, that is time waisting, but much better than a dead child.

    And I always stand next to a car where I child sits alone and wait for the parent. And ask them, why they let their child alone.

  2. Both. Obviously no parent would want that to happen...so calling it a crime is tough. A crime to me implies it was done on purpose. I remember one story when a dad was taking a baby to the sitter, something out of his normal routine-the mom usually did it. He went right to work and forgot the baby all day. That dad has to live with that his entire life.

  3. I remember living in Mt. Lebanon 10 years ago, and there was a mom who left her baby in the car while she shopped upstairs in the Galleria. I thought that there was no way that she could have left the child in the car accidentally, and definitely judged her.

    Fast forward 6 years: I had just had my third child, hubs was working (as he does now) 70+ hrs/week. He was home at a decent hour, so I took the baby with me to run an errand for a new shower curtain. I walked into Bed, Bath, and Beyond and looked at a few things before getting to the shower curtain area. I found the one I wanted and at that moment realized I had left the baby in the car. It was a cool day, the baby was fine (actually still sleeping), but there could have been a tragedy. I was so shaken and embarrassed and mortified that I didn't go back into the store with the baby to buy the new curtain we needed. I never told anyone about it, not even my husband. Before I did it - I couldn't believe that anyone could leave their precious child alone by accident. But I did it.

  4. crime, I have a really hard time believing you can just forget you have your child with you.

  5. If its the "I just left the baby in the car while I grabbed a gallon of milk" situation, crime for sure. But for a person who accidentally does it, that's a terrible tragedy. One sleepless night or messed up routine is all it takes.

    We all space out and do stupid things. Has anyone of you ever pulled out in front of a coming car with your kids in the back seat---accidents happen and unfortunately some of our mistakes have lasting consequences. I feel for those parents and the anguish that they'll have to live with for the rest of their lives.

  6. For parents who leave their kids in the car on purpose, I don't have much to say except that was very, very poor judgment. But I do have some things to say about those who forget.

    Any time your daily routine changes, it's a recipe for things to go wrong. When you're a new parent and sleep deprived, I'm sure it's even worse.

    How many of us have taken a wrong exit and started driving to the completely wrong place, because that's where we always go at this time on this day-- and then realized wait, we aren't going there. We're going to this particular errand that we had to do today. Aw darn it, now we're really going to be late. I've done this many, many times. I'm not senile. I'm in my 20's. I just go on autopilot and I forget. I usually remember my mistake before I'm at my usual destination. A couple of times I haven't.

    If you never take the baby to daycare, and you're on your way to work, and you think of something work-related, or get a phone call, or just get into the rhythm of your usual routine... you're going to forget about the baby. Hopefully it's only for a couple of seconds and you will remember that today was different before you park and start racing out of the car, but you are going to forget. Or if you had to take the baby with you on errands because of some unusual circumstance, it's the same thing. That's why you put your briefcase or your purse back with the baby, or have an enormous stuffed animal in the front, or whatever trick works for you. It isn't because you're a terrible person and don't care about your child. It's because you're a human being.

    Very few people are truly evil. Making villains out of these parents isn't going to help. It won't bring the babies back. And it won't change anything for the parents, who I'm pretty sure are having enough trouble living with the guilt. They made a very human mistake and their babies died. It doesn't seem right to compare them to the parent who abuses their baby. THAT I am willing to call criminal.

    Woah, that was long. But that's all I have to say. :-) Happy Friday!

  7. For me, I kept thinking of when I get distracted and turn left out of my driveway instead of right because I always go left.

    If I had to juggle two jobs and we had a constant routine of one person always dropping the baby at daycare and one day that changed...I can see how it can happen. It's so terrible and thank God it never happened to me, but I can see how a change in routine could lead to this for a busy, tired, stressed parent.

  8. It is my responsibility to make sure that I ensure my lifestyle doesn't endanger the life of my child.

    That means- I manage my stress, I sleep, I do whatever I have to do.

    There just isn't an excuse. We don't accept "I was tired" or "It was a frustrating day" if someone hits a child.

    This happens several times a summer in my city. Not quite the same, but yesterday a 4 month old died in an apartment with no air conditioning. The city spends millions of dollars on cooling centers (w/ free transportation) , free fans, free air conditioners, etc. There is no reason that baby had to die.

    I can absolutely understand how easy it would be to change your routine and get distracted. The point is, your #1 priority in life is to make sure that doesn't happen.

  9. What an incredible article you linked to. I read through the entire 5 pages and was positively sobbing by the time I got to the end. What a terrible tragedy both for the baby and for the parent who loses a baby.

    I think the writer made his argument well. In the case where substance abuse or previous other neglect are present, then it's a crime. But for otherwise doting, responsible, loving parents no charges need be brought because they already have had the worst possible punishment.

  10. I'm grateful that I am not the person responsible to make that decision...crime or mistake? I don't understand how someone could ever forget their child in the backseat...no matter what...it boggles my mind. Just another example of how fast paced and all-consuming we are creating our lives to be. It is just so sad.

  11. Forgetting your purse is a mistake. Forgetting that there is a HUMAN BEING in your car is a crime.

  12. I think you have to take it on a case by case basis. Unfortunately, a parental mistake can cause a deadly accident. The toddler than drowns in a bucket of mop water. The preschooler crushed by a large tv when trying to climb up a bookcase it was on. And a baby forgotten in a hot car when operating outside their normal routine.

    As a mom of five, I can tell you that it happened to me. I was fortunate that it wasn't a hot day and it was only for a few minutes. My girlfriend and I decided to run to the store to take advantage of the last day of a sale. We left our husband BBQing and doing general guy stuff. We were leaving the kids with them since it was just a quick run and we didn't want to be bogged down with babies. For whatever reason, we decided to take my then 9-month old. We got to the store just chatting away and went to shopping. We'd gotten there just before closing, so we were only in the store maybe 10 minutes. When we came out to the parking lot, there was a family surrounding my minivan peering in. That's when we realized that we'd BOTH totally forgotten about my daughter sleeping in her carseat! We were horrified!! Fortunately she was just fine (still sound asleep and the temp in the car was still cool.) But I was shaking and our ride home was dead silent.

    That was 18 years ago and it still shakes me. My friends would tell you that I am the most doting mother. I adore my children (even the teenagers!)

    It can happen to anyone.

  13. I think both. I can see how a new mom, running on no sleep, maybe even PPD, might completely space and leave the baby in the car (or at home!).

  14. This is one of those things that all I can think is "but for the grace of God there go I". If the baby is left in the car unintentionally I'm not sure I'd call it a crime. I do think we all need to slow down and take more time in our lives to complete tasks without being so caught up in them that we forget such precious things, our children. I think we've all had momentary lapses, these parents just saw it on a more devastating level than most of us.

  15. This is one of those things that all I can think is "but for the grace of God there go I". If the baby is left in the car unintentionally I'm not sure I'd call it a crime. I do think we all need to slow down and take more time in our lives to complete tasks without being so caught up in them that we forget such precious things, our children. I think we've all had momentary lapses, these parents just saw it on a more devastating level than most of us.

  16. Oh, wow Jen. That was such an emotional article. Hard to read but necessary, I think, in understanding the entire subject.

    Cases like these are terrible, terrible tragedies. And I don't think there's any way a loving, caring parent would intentionally do that to their child. It's not a crime in my eyes, but a horribly tragic human error.

    It's incredibly heartbreaking for me to read other commenters here making these parents out to be monsters. I think the article said it best here... "The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them."

    So sad. But I thank you for bringing it more to light.

  17. Jennifer, This is such a senseless and horrific tragedy to think about but it happens frequently enough that something should be done to help people remember. I like those ideas about the briefcase in the back seat and the stuffed animal in the passenger seat. I try not to say that would never happen to me because as you mentioned, even the most intelligent, together people have made this fatal mistake. I used to have recurring nightmares that I would pull away from the grocery store parking lot with my baby in the carrier on top of my car. I never put the baby on top of my car(just the diaper bag!) but I saw a woman do that once and it stuck with me. All of us are pulled in so many directions nowadays, we need strategies to put in the forefront what matters most.

  18. This was actually one of the headlines on our newspaper yesterday ~ a local mom and dad left their baby in their car while they shopped ~ over 20 mins. A passerby heard the baby crying and called police. The baby is fine, and I haven't heard much more about the parents.

    I left my babe in the car ~ only for about 1 minute, but it felt like at least 5 and I was completely sick to my stomach. We ~ as in my then 8 year old and I were running to the craft store quick for supplies for a school project. We got out of the car talking about what we needed and her vision for the project. As we entered the store and I grabbed the cart. I about had a heart attack because I didn't have the car seat! I flew out of the store so fast to get the baby!

    It is so true and unfortunate that we are so easily distracted.

    So you ask mistake or crime? Both. What starts off as a mistake turns into a crime 23 times too many (and so many more times where there isn't a death, just injuries). Punishment? I don't know, the fact that you were the one to kill your own baby.......

    Lets just say after my 1 minute mistake, it will NEVER be made again! I check the car seat even if I know she isn't with. It's my NEW habit!

  19. This is such a difficult topic.

    No one should judge until they have been in that position or lost a child.
    We do get into such a routine and sometimes, when we are stressed or so tired, our body just goes on auto pilot.

    There are many times I have driven home late at night from somewhere and I don't remember how I got that. I just did it because I was on auto pilot.

    Most of these accidents happen when something is different or out of the normal routine. It is not like they just off and left their child.

    I have ALWAYS put my purse in the backseat with the baby so that I have to open the back door and get it and then you see the baby. It is definitely a good tip.

    And really, don't you think those parents go through enough suffering and guilt without having to worry about the community judging them as well?


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