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Hot Cars Kill: 5 Low-Tech Ways to Remember a Child in the Backseat

Baby in back seat car seat

Image credit: Amber Alert GPS blog,


Hot cars kill. Today, a Canadian child died in a parked car in Edmonton’s heat. Last week, it was a Toronto-area boy.

Stress, scheduling changes, sleep deprivation … these all affect our ability to function at full capacity and this includes our memory. Parents with young children know that these can be a dangerous combination. But most of us escape through our children’s young years without disaster striking. Unfortunately for some, disaster does strike.

That’s what happens when a parent forgets that a child is in the backseat of the car. While some people find it impossible to believe that any “good” parent could forget their child in their backseat, it happens. Consider this quote from a 2009 article in Washington Post Magazine:

“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.”

I can’t locate statistics for Canada, but in the United States an organization called Kids and Cars tracks this information and reports that, on average, 38 children die each year in hot cars. It is a painful and tragic way for a child to die, and I can’t even begin to imagine the grief and guilt that the parents must endure.

There are a number of tech devices that can prevent these kinds of tragedies. And although we have devices that tell us when our car might be getting broken into or that we’ve left an interior light on, these devices have not been adopted by the auto manufacturing industry. I’d personally rather have a device that reminds me a little person is in the back of the car than one that tells me I’ve left a door ajar. But this is the reality for today. (Note that if you like tech and money is not an issue, you can buy after-market products for this purpose: Cars-N-Kids, Baby Alert International, Backseat Minder.)

So, if you are a parent of a young child, these low-tech tips are for you. You might be starting a new job, trying to care for a colicky baby, or juggling life as a single parent … whatever the reason, take some of these tips and put them into play until life quietens down a bit. Just in case. Just because.

Here are tips I’ve culled from a variety of sources. I do not want to take credit for them, I just want to share information that could save a precious life.

#1:  Set an alarm on your phone

In many of these cases, a parent’s schedule has changed and rather than dropping the child off at daycare, they’ve driven straight to work and forgotten the baby in the car. Set an alarm on your phone to go off each morning around the time you usually arrive to work. Your memory will jolt you out of auto-pilot to remind you to check the back seat.

#2: Ask your caregiver to call you

Ask your caregiver to call you on your cell phone and at your work number if you haven’t dropped your child off at the regular time. In many instances, the caregiver did call, but only reached voicemail or assumed that the parent would call them later in the day to explain the absence.

#3: Put your purse/wallet in the backseat

I do this already to avoid using my phone when I’m in the car. But if you are with your child, leave the purse or wallet in the backseat as a memory cue. Generally, it is habit for adults to take a purse/wallet everywhere we go, so even if your scheduling got changed at the last minute, out of habit you’ll look for your purse/wallet when getting out of the car.

#4: Put the diaper bag in the front seat

This is great to do in tandem with the purse in the backseat. By placing the diaper bag in the front seat, you have a visual cue when you’re getting out of the car that your child is in the back.

#5: Use a stuffed animal 

When your child is not in their car seat, keep a stuffed animal in it. Then, any time you place your child in his/her seat, put the stuffed animal into the front passenger seat as a visual cue.

Please note that I will delete any disparaging comments about parents who have left their children in cars. It’s just not the point of this post. The point of this post is to try to prevent these tragic deaths by sharing tips and ideas. Thanks for understanding. 

Edited on July 8, 2013 to add: I am so pleased to share that this post will be featured in the Health section on BlogHer in this week. My greatest hope is that this kind of terrible tragedy is never experienced by another family. That it becomes common place for a girlfriend to receive not only a baby monitor at her baby shower, but one of the after-market alarm systems (links in the post above) that alert you that a baby is in the car. And that mothers share these kind of low-tech tips with each other at playgroups. By being featured on BlogHer — the largest community of women who blog: 92 million across blogs and social tools, including 55 million blog readers alone — I feel like we’re getting one step closer. Thank you BlogHer!

Edited on July 12, 2013 to add: Please note that this post has now been translated into Spanish: “Ideas para recordar que tu bebé está en el auto.” I’m thrilled … getting the world out to a larger audience and hopefully ensuring everyone is aware of these simple tips to avoid a tragedy.

Edited on June 24, 2014 to add: The terrible news is that, one year later, these deaths are still taking place. According to Kids and Cars data (USA), there have already been 12 deaths in 2014 attributed to heat stroke in cars. The hottest season of the Canadian year has just begun. Perhaps that explains why this particular post has gone viral in the past week, averaging 3-5,000 views each day. We’re all looking for answers to stop these tragedies: is it sleep deprivation? A change in routine? The newer rear-seating bucket baby seats for cars? Needless to say, no one should get behind the wheel if they are experiencing severe sleep deprivation. A change in routine is generally an unavoidable circumstance. And the legislated car seats are certainly a must. So what’s the answer? I wish I knew. I just hope that by sharing some of these easy tips, there will be a community somewhere that is spared from this kind of grief. Thank you so much for continuing to share this post with your friends and family and for sharing your own tips in the comments below.

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  1. I’ve also heard to take your left shoe off and put it in the back seat.

  2. Thanks for finally writing about >5 Ways to Remember a Child in Backseat of Car <Liked it!

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