Advertisement

It’s easier than you think to forget your kid in a hot car

It’s easier than you think to forget your kid in a hot car
Juan Rodriguez, holding his son Tristan, leaves Bronx Criminal Court with his wife Marissa after a hearing, Thursday, Aug. 1, in New York. Rodriguez has plead not guilty to manslaughter and other charges in the deaths of their 1-year-old twins left in a car while he put in a day at work. Prosecutors say Rodriguez told police he thought he had dropped the twins off at day care. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) (Mark Lennihan/AP)

It is easy for some people to castigate the Bronx father whose twins died after he left them in the back seat of a hot car while he went to work. To call him an irresponsible and uncaring father. I mean, what parent in their right mind could forget their own children?

The truth is, just about any parent could do the same thing. Unfortunately, human memory function sometimes fails.

Advertisement

Since 1998, 822 children have died after being left in a car in the sweltering summer heat, including 14 in Maryland, according to data from San Jose State University, which tracks such deaths. There is even a name for it: pediatric vehicular heatstroke. Nearly 54% percent of the children were forgotten by their parent or other caregiver.

These are not parents who don’t care for and love their kids. They’re often overtired and overwhelmed moms and dads whose minds flip to autopilot. Parents start driving a path to work so familiar they barely think about it. If they aren’t the one who usually drops their child off to daycare, they can easily forget the task that is not part of their normal routine. Particularly if the child is quiet and sleeping in the backseat.

It is such a problem that the organization KidsAndCars.org has pushed for years to require vehicles to come with standard equipment that would either remind drivers to check rear seats after a vehicle is shut off or rear alert systems that would ping or send some other alert if a child is still seat-belted in a car seat in the back.

We’re not sure what Congress is waiting for to adopt the bipartisan solutions. The number of children dying is only getting worse while lawmakers twiddle their thumbs on the issue. A record number of 53 children died in 2018 after being left hot vehicles.

And the way parents are treated by prosecutors varies widely. Some are charged with involuntary manslaughter and sentenced imprisoned for year, while more compassionate prosecutors may not press charges at all. Parents shouldn’t go to jail for a tragic mistake.

Consumers Reports has endorsed some of the safety applications but says others need testing. Still, there must be at least one feature lawmakers and safety experts can agree works. Rather than taking the parents to task, we need to come up with ways to counteract human flaws and save lives.

The features for cars wouldn’t cost auto manufacturers much money, and some car companies have in fact already begun adding them voluntarily. Hyundai announced last week that it would add a “rear occupant alert” system to most new vehicles by 2022. Some of its cars already have proactive safety features to remind parents of kids in the car. Its ultrasonic system will trigger the car horn to honk if there is movement in the rear seat. It will honk in 25-second intervals up to eight times until the alarm is disabled.

Parents can also take their own measures so they don’t forget their kids. They can ask child care providers to call if their child doesn’t show up. They can put their baby’s diaper bag in the front seat as a visual reminder or place their purse or wallet in the back seat so they will have to reach to the rear before exiting the car. If only the father in the Bronx had taken such precautions.

A district attorney made the correct decision to not immediately put before a grand jury the case of the Bronx father who accidentally left his nearly 1-year-old twins, a girl and a boy, in the backseat. As of now, Juan Rodriguez is charged with manslaughter negligent homicide. The father said he worked a full shift as a social worker at a hospital and was driving home when he realized his babies were strapped to their car seats. By then neither was breathing, according to several news reports.

A medical examiner later determined their bodies had reached 108 degrees.

Mr. Rodriguez said he didn’t intend to leave the children in the car and thought he had taken them to daycare. He looked full of anguish, hurt and pain during a court hearing last week. Unless evidence comes out proving his account is not true, we think prosecutors should drop the charges all together.

Charging and jailing him would leave his other children with no father at home and will do nothing to bring his twins back. Plus, Mr. Rodriguez has suffered the worst punishment of all — having to know for the rest of his life that he caused the death of his children.

Advertisement
Advertisement