It was just another workday for Karen Osorio when she received an alarming phone call: Her 15-month-old daughter, Sofia Aveiro, wasn’t at the daycare center at pick-up time, her husband said.
Frightened, Osorio, a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, ran to her car in the office parking lot. That’s when she saw Sofia, still buckled in her car seat in the backseat. The toddler died after spending more than nine hours in her mother’s hot car. She had been left there unintentionally.
Osorio’s 15-month-old daughter is one of 42 kids who died last year from car-related heatstroke, according to No Heat Stroke, a research initiative out of San Jose State University. Since 1998, there have been more than 750 hot car-related deaths, which translates to an average of 37 fatalities each year.
When it comes to why these deaths occur, Osorio is not an outlier. According to No Heat Stroke, 54 percent of hot car-related deaths since 1998 happened after a caregiver left their little one in the car unintentionally (only 18 percent of fatalities were due to intentional neglect). It’s a phenomenon known as Forgotten Baby Syndrome — or FBS — a condition where a parent’s executive brain functioning is so bogged down by stress, lack of sleep, emotions and changes in routine that their working memory short-circuits, kicking in the involuntary brain process.
In other words, everything you do becomes automatic until something snaps you out of it — like your baby crying in the backseat.
But sometimes your child is asleep, which means you won’t have their cries as a trigger to jolt your working memory awake, and run the risk of leaving them in the car. And that’s something Osorio understands, which is why she launched the “Bag in the Back” public awareness campaign. The Bag in the Back campaign urges parents to leave an essential personal item — think laptop, ID badge, cell phone or briefcase — in the backseat so that, before you lock your car, you’re forced to open the back door to retrieve your item. This helps minimize the risk of leaving your child in the car unintentionally, Osorio says.
“We wanted to drive the adoption of the habit of putting a bag in the backseat so parents, if they lose awareness, will catch themselves,” Osorio told The Wall Street Journal.
The “bag in the back” habit is a simple but smart way to avoid a preventable tragedy. But there are some other things parents can do to prevent something like this happening to them, such as always opening your car’s back door no matter what. You can keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when not in use, so when your baby is in the seat, their furry friend rides shotgun, reminding you that your kid’s in the back.
Or, if you’re tech-inclined, you can download Kars4Kids’ Bluetooth-enabled safety app, which sounds the alarm anytime you and your phone leave the car, prompting you to check the backseat. You should also always have a plan with your daycare or school provider so that if your little one doesn’t show up without notice, a staff member will call to check in.
Any parent is capable of leaving their child in the backseat of their car, especially if they’re overwhelmed. Making one or more of these tips part of your routine, though, could save your baby’s life.