General Question

Aethelwine's avatar

Forgetting about your infant in the backseat. Can this really happen to anyone?

Asked by Aethelwine (42961points) June 14th, 2013

I was listening to a commercial on the fm radio during a long drive this morning. It claimed “forgetting about your baby in the car can happen to anyone”. Really? Um, I’ve never forgotten when my children were with me. Never.

Is this a 21st century problem? Did this happen in the 60s? 70s?

How do parents forget their baby is in the car, then leave them to die in the heat?

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51 Answers

Judi's avatar

I had my kids in the 80’s and I feared I would do this. I was working full time and in a dysfunctional marriage. I was totally exhausted a lot of the time and felt like a zombie often. I would have nightmares that I left my kid in the car and wake up in a panic. I did put my daughter in her car seat, throw the keys on the driver side, lock the door and close it once. I was near a hospital and their maintenance staff broke into the car for me. This was before cell phones and I had to leave her in the car while I walked almost half a block to get help. Talk about panic!!

deni's avatar

I am not sure how you forget about a person you are with, period, regardless of age or where they are sitting in relation to you. Another excuse for general stupidity. How sad.

Judi's avatar

Thanks @deni . You’ve obviously never been that stressed. I hope when you have kids you have the luxury of a good job to pay good nannies or are able to stay home. Many women work their asses off all day to provide for their kids and are in a state of total exhaustion. If the baby is asleep in the back it is possible to just go on auto pilot. I have so much compassion for women that this has happened to. It has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with stress.

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t see how it is possible to forget you have your baby with you. It never happened to me or anyone I know.

Bellatrix's avatar

I can see how it happens. People are stressed. A million things on their minds. Especially if the child isn’t normally with them on that route or at that time, so something is outside the norm, and they’re distracted. It never happened to me but I’ve known people to drive to their workplace when they’re on their way to a quite different destination. I’ve heard of people arriving at work with their kid in the back of the car because they forgot to stop at the kindy.

Katniss's avatar

Mind blowing, isn’t it?

There was a lady in Detroit a few years ago that left her kids in the car for 2 hours while she went and got her hair and nails done. It was during the summer. Both of her kids died. It was well over 100 degrees inside the car.

I don’t get it either. I never even left my son alone in the car for 2 minutes while I went inside to pay for gas.

There was one time, many years ago, I was out running some errands, by myself, I ran in to a gas station to get something to drink. I left my car running and my stereo was turned up really loud. This asshole said to me “I hope you don’t have a child in that car!”
I looked at him and said “yes, I always leave my child in a running car with the stereo cranked. Is that wrong?”
Apparently he had seen the carseat, but he should have also seen that there wasn’t a child in it. Dumbass.

People are just stupid. There’s your answer. lol

Judi's avatar

@Katniss , it sounds like the person you’re talking about did it on purpose. I’m talking about when people are exhausted, stressed and actually forget.

Katniss's avatar

I can just imagine your panic!
Last year I was leaving Walmart and a lady a few cars down from me did the same thing you did, except her cell phone was in there too. She was hysterical. I let her use my phone to call her husband, who started screaming at her, which made it that much worse. I felt so bad for her.

Gabby101's avatar

They forget because the child is silent (sleeping) and they are out of sight and the parent is thinking about something else. Parents have so much on their minds, it’s easy to imagine how it could happen.

I often get very deep in thought when I drive and go on autopilot – I am so busy thinking about what I have to do and how I’m going to do it, I can easily understand how this could happen. I feel so bad for parents that have had this happen to them. They have so much guilt to deal with and as you can see from the answers here, people are judgmental. If it’s not a mistake they’ve made, then anyone who commits that mistake is stupid. Everyone on this planet has made a mistake that they did not suffer the potential consequences for (ever run a red light and not kill someone?) and they should just be thankful that for that and have compassion for those that are not so lucky.

Aethelwine's avatar

@Judi But you did remember. Your child wasn’t a statistic. The thought was in your mind and you came through for your child.

deni's avatar

@Judi Goodness. I am sorry you had to experience that. But I do not plan to have kids in that situation.

Katniss's avatar

I’m sure in her case it was intentional.
I do understand that people get stressed out and exhausted and do things they normally wouldn’t do.
I give so much credit to women that work and take care of their families.
When my son was little, I didn’t work, I was lucky enough to be able to stay home, I was exhausted just doing that. Adding a job into the equation must be beyond exhausting.

Gabby101's avatar

@jonsblond – in the sixties and seventies, your kids were standing or sleeping on the front seat next to you while you drove, so no, they weren’t forgotten, just thrown through the windshield when you braked.

Aethelwine's avatar

Many of you know me as a stay at home parent. I did work full time when my sons were toddlers. I understand the stress, but I never forget about my kids. This was the early 90s.

Judi's avatar

@jonsblond , but for the Grace of God. My child could have been a statistic very easy.

seekingwolf's avatar

What happened to @Judi I can understand. The kid was just locked in for a second by pure accident because you placed your keys in and closed the door without thinking. Heck, I’ve done that before myself. It happens and if you can get someone quickly, your kid is going to be fine. I’m sorry that happened to you.

What I DON’T see happening on accident is what is usually reported in the news: Mummy goes to store, locks infant in car, wanders into store, goes shopping for a WHILE, and then 30 min to an 1 hour later, it’s OMG MY KID IS IN THE CAR and by the time they get there, the kid is either dead or in critical condition.

I just don’t buy it. Not a bit. Sorry if I sound harsh (go ahead, flame me), but when I hear stories about kids being locked in hot cars for that long, I assume that a) the mom didn’t really give a crap about the kid or b) attempted post-birth “abortion”.

Moms just don’t forget their kids like that. It makes no sense to me to say how much you love your child and how you’d do anything for your child…only to absently abandon it in a car for an hour to die.

Yep, I’m judging them. Absolutely.

Judi's avatar

@seekingwolf , the stories that scare me are the ones where the parent forgets to stop at daycare and goes to work. I could have totally seen that happening to me. After an evening fighting with my first husband, kids nightmares at night, 3 hours sleep and an intense project due at work…...

nikipedia's avatar

This is an article I read on this topic a while ago.

Some excerpts:

“Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. 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 situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot. When our prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are planning our day on the way to work, the ignorant but efficient basal ganglia is operating the car; that’s why you’ll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.

”..Stress—either sudden or chronic—can weaken the brain’s higher-functioning centers, making them more susceptible to bullying from the basal ganglia. He’s seen the same sort of thing play out in cases he’s followed involving infant deaths in cars.

”‘The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant,’ he said. ‘The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted—such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back—it can entirely disappear.’

“The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them.


“I was that guy, before. I’d read the stories, and I’d go, ‘What were those parents thinking?’

“Mikey Terry is a contractor from Maypearl, Tex., a big man with soft eyes. At the moment he realized what he’d done, he was in the cab of a truck and his 6-month-old daughter, Mika, was in a closed vehicle in the broiling Texas sun in a parking lot 40 miles away. So his frantic sprint to the car was conducted at 100 miles an hour in a 30-foot gooseneck trailer hauling thousands of pounds of lumber the size of telephone poles.

“On that day in June 2005, Terry had been recently laid off, and he’d taken a day job building a wall in the auditorium of a Catholic church just outside of town. He’d remembered to drop his older daughter at day care, but as he was driving the baby to a different day care location, he got a call about a new permanent job. This really caught his attention. It was a fatal distraction.”

Bellatrix's avatar

That’s a different scenario entirely @seekingwolf. Leaving your child in the car while you go to the shops (or the casino as has been reported here) is unforgivable. Being distracted and forgetting the child is even in the car is not the same thing.

Judi's avatar

Thanks @nikipedia . I was a perfect candidate.

seekingwolf's avatar

@Judi as tired as you would have been, I don’t think you would have done that. I can understand the fear though.

@Bellatrix I agree, there’s a big difference. Although when a child is left behind for 45+ min in a hot, hot car, I do begin to doubt the “forgetfulness” excuse. That’s just me though.

Judi's avatar

@seekingwolf , after reading @nikipedia ‘s post I really think I could have. I was known to forget to pick them up from daycare when under some of the worst stress.
The brain has a way of forgettng some of the worst, but I vaugly remember getting to work and thinking, “Oh crap, I forgot to go to the sitter.” That’s probably why I had those panic nightmares.

Bellatrix's avatar

If you’re on autopilot and went into your office. Started your day with no recognition your child was even in the car, I can quite see someone not realising until they get a call saying ‘where is…’ or ‘do you have…?’

It’s just sad, sad, sad when it happens and those parents have to live with their error. I for one won’t judge someone for making such a horrible mistake. Like @Judi, I can remember times when I was so stressed it could quite easily have happened to me.

nikipedia's avatar

@Judi I can completely understand how this kind of thing happens as well. Every person alive has made an incredibly stupid mistake at least once in their lives, just most of the time they don’t have fatal consequences. It seems to me the only difference between people whose stupid mistake ended in tragedy vs. inconvenience is just a matter of chance.

Aethelwine's avatar

@Judi helped me through the most difficult time of my life. I know she is a good, loving person. She did remember her child, even if she forgot for just a moment.

I know what it’s like to be overworked, young and stressed, but you don’t forget about your child for the amount of time it takes for their life to end. Your children come first. I call bs for chance being the reason it never happened to my family.

cookieman's avatar

Stress does unexpected things to people.

Few years back, there was a story of a father who took his infant food shopping. Returned to the car; placed the baby carrier (with baby strapped inside) on the roof of the car while he placed the bundles in the trunk; and proceeded to drive away — with baby still on the roof !!

Once the car got rolling, the baby carrier slid off the roof and bounced accross the parking lot. This got the father’s attention.

Miraculously, I believe the baby was okay.

JLeslie's avatar

I would say that since it does happen to people who would never ever leave their children in the car purposely, it possibly is an argument to allow baby seats up front. Out of sight out of mind. I am usually very aware of the people who are with me and I can’t imagine doing such a thing, but at the same time, being overloaded with stress, extremely busy, change in routine, I can see it can happen. In hot sunny weather a child can die in ten minutes. If you forget, go inside, start doing yourother chores and errands, and then suddenly panic remembering you had the baby with you, it can be too late in just minutes. If the children are not usually with you, I would say that is a more likely scenario.

I saw a movie based on this true story of a school teacher who on her first day back to school in the fall who left her toddler in the back seat while she went in to work. At the end of the school day a teacher saw the young child in the back seat of the car. Everyone was frantic of course, the baby was already dead. It was a new routine, she was supposed to have left the baby at a sitter, something her husband usually does, but he had an appointment that morning.

Aethelwine's avatar

A stupid mistake is passing someone on a busy 2 lane hwy when you are impatient and you end up hitting a car head on. You are in control of your situation. Take your time and follow the person behind you. There’s no stupid mistake there. An impatient dumb ass doing the same and hitting you head on is just a matter of chance.

Aethelwine's avatar

ugh. so many mistakes and I can’t fix. *follow the person ahead of you, not behind. is one.

AshLeigh's avatar

When my brother was three years old my parents left him in the car overnight once. He had fallen asleep, and they didn’t notice. We all went in, and went straight to bed. They got him in the morning, and he was fine.
It’s hard when you have five young children. I was a newborn at the time, my brothers were 3 and 7. My sisters were 4 and 6.

JLeslie's avatar

@AshLeigh You reminded me of a close friend of mine who was left at Disneyland. They were driving away and one of the other children asked, “where’s Jane?”

mattbrowne's avatar

No, it cannot. It requires someone living a dysfunctional life.

bookish1's avatar

When I lived in Florida, it seemed like I read an account of this almost every other week in the newspaper. And an infant or small child in a closed car in a blazing parking lot can overheat and die in just half an hour.

JLeslie's avatar

@bookish1 In south FL the child dies, especially in the summertime. Where @AshLeigh lives they don’t. At least not in the season her mom left the baby in the car. We don’t hear about the ones that had an ok ending. Although, now I guess if an infant or very young child is alone in a car that makes the news maybe no matter what no matter what the outcome.

I think a lot of parents probably run into a store real quick and leave their babies in the car. Such a hassle to get the baby out ~ it will only take a couple minutes to run in to the store. Then it actually takes longer. But, hopefully not FL parents, or in the summer in general in the US. I know some people might be horrified to leave a baby or young child alone at all, but in smaller towns where there isn’t a fear of kidnapping, they don’t perceive it as a danger at least, I bet some parents still do it.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

This is one of my greatest fears but I also think it is very rare. When you have kids you just have to be more alert and aware of your surroundings in general and I believe that when most people become parents it seems somewhat natural to be more responsible.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Sadly, it can happen very easily.

We’re all creatures of habit; much of what we do throughout the day is by auto-pilot. Close the front door, lock it, and take the keys. Drive down the street, turn left, and follow the usual route to the usual market. We really don’t think about what we’re doing.

If someone doesn’t often have a child in the back seat, or if he/she doesn’t generally take the child along for a particular trip, the child can be overlooked.

There was a horribly tragic situation in my own city. A man had to take his baby to day care on his way to work, something that he very seldom did. His normal pattern took over; he forgot about both the baby and the babysitter, drove directly to his job, and left the baby in the car. This man wasn’t a neglectful or careless monster; he was human.

Why doesn’t someone invent an alarm for child seats? If the driver opens the car door when there’s a baby in the car seat, an alarm should sound. My car yells at me if I try to start the ignition without wearing my seatbelt; can’t we provide the same protection for innocent children?

JLeslie's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul Great idea! An alarm that detects pressure on the seat when the car door opens. Really, that is brilliant.

It’s a hypnotic state we are in when we are on autopilot. Like when we drive home and don’t remember passing the last five exits and all of a sudden we are at our exit. We are driving, wide awake, but unaware of our surroundings to some extent.

Judi's avatar

I was talking to my daughter on the phone while driving with my grandson back to my house which was 25 miles south of Disneyland. It was late and we had a long day playing in the park.
All the sudden I told my daughter, “my GPS is crazy. It keeps wanting me to exit. ”
I then realized I was almost all the way to San Diego. I had missed my exit and was just driving. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in Mexico.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@JLeslie I’m so glad you like the car-seat-alarm idea. If that invention could save even one precious child’s life, it would be worthwhile.

I know what you mean about the hypnosis of habits. Every afternoon, I go to visit my Mom. I’ll often plan to stop at the bank, pick up my dry cleaning, or stop at the market on my way home. How often do I remember and do my side-errands? Almost never. I just make the usual drive.

JLeslie's avatar

The German autobahn is credited with having gentle turns that keep people from falling into highway hypnosis. Long straight roads that keep us fixed on one point in front of us is thought to contribute to this state of hynosis. Hitler was brilliant, or his engineers were, created a large highway system to transport across Germany and parts of Europe efficiently, they considered slopes and turns to maintain safety at high speeds, and even wound up making his roads safer to prevent highway hypnosis probably accidently. Since Germany’s topography is fairly varied the roads automatically had some ups and down and winding, like parts of American Interstates, but many of our highways are straight lines for long sections.

Bellatrix's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul why don’t you check out how you might turn that idea into a reality? Ask a question here. There are people who would be able to give you advice. That is a life-saving idea. You should follow up on it.

Judi's avatar

I wonder how a product lie that would be accepted? No one wants to think that they are capable of forgetting that their kid is in the car. I think it would almost have to be mandated for it to work.

Bellatrix's avatar

I’d use such a thing if I had a baby. Which I don’t but just in case! I get your point but it could be marketed towards parents who have nannys, grandparents who might be transporting their children. I think it’s a fabulous idea. I think if there were stats it would help too. I had a very quick look and I couldn’t find stats to say how often this happens and is officially recognised. That wouldn’t cover the times when people realise before any harm’s caused.

Bellatrix's avatar

That’s fabulous @judi. If I was a working mum, I’d definitely buy one. Just to be absolutely sure.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it would be better as an option on a car inbedded in the seat just like how the front air bag on the passenger side deactivates if there is a low amount of weight in the seat. Basically for the reasons @judi said, that people don’t want to think they would forget their kid. Although, this product seems to be selling.

Cupcake's avatar

@jonsblond I wonder if you being a stay at home mom had anything to do with you never forgetting your kids… they were always with you. I have driven to work and forgot to drop the baby off at daycare (my hubby usually does it). I fortunately remembered before I left the kiddo in the car, but (like @Judi) I think I could have fully forgotten.

I don’t always have my kiddo with me. I parent and work. I also require 8 full hours of sleep, which I have only gotten a couple of times in the last year and a half. I get disorganized and forgetful when stressed. I think I could forget my kid (especially if he was sleeping and laying facing backwards in the infant seat). He’s a lot more obvious now that he is in a forward-facing car seat.

Aethelwine's avatar

I said ^up there somewhere that I was working full time when my boys were very young. My husband was also working full time. I know what it’s like to be a young, overworked, stressed parent. I also require at least 7½ to 8 hours of sleep or I’m a walking zombie all day. I certainly didn’t get that much sleep each night when my boys were young. My husband usually dropped off our youngest at daycare and I dropped off our oldest in kindergarten. A change in our routine happened a few times and I never forgot I had my child with me. I don’t think it didn’t happen to me because of chance. My children are my responsibility and I was always aware when they were with me, even if they were dead asleep in the backseat.

Cupcake's avatar

@jonsblond Sorry… I thought you said you worked when they were toddlers.

Aethelwine's avatar

I did say toddlers, but I was never a stay at home parent until my youngest son entered kindergarten. I was either going to school or working the first 5 years of my youngest son’s life.

If leaving your young child in the car can happen to anyone, then I feel even better for the decision we made for me to stay home when our daughter was born. It looks like if it can happen to anyone, it happens to the working parents. I still don’t think it can happen to anyone, but that’s just my opinion. I agree with @mattbrowne‘s answer.

GoldieAV16's avatar

Not that this is at all comparable, but every day hundreds of people leave the grocery store, and leave something in the cart. A purse, a 12-pack. The cart is RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Yet they don’t see the object in the cart as they return it the drop off, or move it out of the way. So yes, I think this could happen to anyone. Fatigue, change of routine, distraction can all be factors.

I have heard of people who put their cell phone under the child. Sad as this may seem, but as busy as our minds are, and while we may forget our purse or our beer, people rarely forget their phone.

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