I received a call on the evening of Friday, June 19, 2015, which brought me to tears for the remainder of the weekend. Tears of bittersweet joy; tears of validation from four exhausting years of battle against the often unknown danger of Child Vehicular Heatstroke (aka child hot car deaths or vehicular hyperthermia) due to Forgotten Backseat Baby Syndrome (FBS); and most importantly, tears of HOPE. What was the origin of such passionate tears? The signing of Texas HB2574 into law by Governor Abbott that day. This law adds the danger of child vehicular heatstroke to the list of topics that must be reviewed with parents of newborns prior to hospital discharge as required by the Texas Health and Safety Code. It is unique in the setting of vehicular heatstroke laws in that it provides for information and resources for PREVENTION of children being left unattended in vehicles BEFORE a child enters a vehicle for the first time. Other vehicular heatstroke laws only address punishment for leaving children unattended in vehicles or exemption from prosecution of good samaritans who break into vehicles to rescue unattended children.
My Vehicular Heatstroke Story: ONE WRONG TURN to Tragedy
My entire household overslept on the morning of May 25, 2011. I was awakened by Ray Ray’s sweet giggles and kisses on my face, followed by a glance at the clock that read 9:43 am!!!! We rushed to get ready for our day, then I followed my husband and child to his truck, where we both placed Ray Ray securely in her car seat. I waved as they descended down the driveway, then carried on with my workday. I had no idea that a tragic error, one that would decimate my family, would be made in the next seven minutes: a RIGHT turn at a critical traffic intersection instead of the LEFT turn required to reach Ray Ray’s childcare center.
Fast forward less than three hours later. I picked up my husband at his office for a quick lunch date. We talked during that drive about our little princess and how beautiful she was in her new dress, a birthday gift from her teacher, for “Tropical Day” at the daycare. Then, as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband said to me, “Go back to the office”. I asked why. He repeated, “just go back to the office…. Immediately”. As I approached a red traffic light, he instructed me to run the light…this was so weird to me, so I asked: “WHAT is going on?” Then my world started spinning as I heard his words: “I can’t remember dropping Ray Ray off at daycare this morning”.
As I sped to the office, I instructed him to call the office and have them check the truck. At the same time, I called the daycare….almost simultaneously as I heard confirmation from her teacher that she was not present, the office manager told my husband that they removed her from the truck. Two calls to 911 were placed within one minute of each other, one by me, the other from the office. Despite all of our efforts to save her, Sophia Rayne (aka “Ray Ray”), my soulmate, was pronounced dead at 2:49 pm. My soul died as she did, and my heart broke into millions of pieces, some of which would never be recovered….In short, my entire world crumbled into dust. Sadly, there would be many more cases that summer, and in the years since, many whose stories sounded EXACTLY like ours: a forgotten childcare drop-off by a responsible parent. Many of them also originating from one wrong turn on the morning of that fateful drive.
Child Vehicular Heatstroke: Just the Facts
Child vehicular heatstroke is the leading non-traffic cause of fatalities for children under 14 years of age. According to data from noheatstroke.org by Jan Null, CCM, at least 647 children have perished since 1998 from this often unrecognized, commonly misperceived danger to child passenger safety. Most of these children were mistakenly forgotten in the backseat by good parents, victims of ‘Forgotten Backseat Baby Syndrome’ (FBS; an unintended consequence of moving children to the backseat in the 1990s). They were most frequently on their way to a childcare provider when they were tragically forgotten. The second most common source of child hot car deaths: UNLOCKED CARS! Almost 30 percent of cases involve children gaining access to an unlocked vehicle then becoming trapped inside. Sadly, nearly 75 percent of all child hot car deaths involve children under the age of two (Data on file, Ray Ray’s Pledge).
The NEW Vehicular Heatstroke Law in Texas (HB2574)
Texas leads the nation in child hot car deaths. As of this writing, at least 96 little Texans have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998. My precious Ray Ray was number 74. Prior to my loss, I had NEVER heard about the remote possibility of a sane, responsible parent forgetting one’s child in the backseat under the perfect storm of conditions such as change in routine, sleep deprivation, and/ or stress paired with a fateful distraction while driving (eg: a wrong turn, road construction leading to detoured route, being cut off in traffic by another driver, an emergency phone call)….NOT at my OB appointments, not in the numerous parenting classes we took as nervous first-time parents-to-be, not at the hospital after she was born, and not in our pediatrician’s office. I have waged my own war against child vehicular heatstroke over the past four years to change that for other families. NO child should have to die for a family or a community to learn about this danger to child passenger safety for the first time. The new vehicular heatstroke education requirement prior to newborn hospital discharge in Texas provides the first critical step to making sure that parents are informed of the dangers of children left unattended in vehicles WITHOUT a child having to die in order to gain such knowledge. Texas HB2574 gives me hope and new inspiration to fight even harder in my war to end child vehicular heatstroke. As a parent survivor of a vehicular heatstroke victim, I am so proud of the team of citizens and legislators who made this possibility a REALITY. Further, I feel validated that, FINALLY, child vehicular heatstroke will be recognized as a danger as pertinent to new parents as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
A Call to Action for Other States
In conclusion, I urge parents from other states to contact your legislators and demand the same vehicular heatstroke education for new parents. Though not foolproof, early preventive education of a too-often unknown danger to child passenger safety is a great start to driving to zero child hot car deaths. The life that is saved by such information could be YOUR child!
For more information and resources related to child vehicular heatstroke, please visit our website: www.RayRaysPledge.com.
As the school year winds down and summer travel plans go into action, families will get in the car and drive all around this great country of ours. Let’s face it, summer does mean the kids are out of school and usually need someplace to go before they tear the house down and getting in the car and going somewhere, anywhere is usually what happens. But before you head out in the car this summer, whether it is for the cross country journey or the 5 minute ride to the park, please put on your seat belt.
We have all heard the sayings “Seat Belts Save Lives” or “click it or ticket”. In 2009 the NHTSA released a study saying that over 1600 lives could be saved each year and over 22,000 serious injuries could be avoided each year if seat belt use rose to 90% in drivers and passengers in automobiles and I am here to tell you that it is more than true. Having responded to many traffic accidents and seen the results of both wearing and not wearing a seatbelt, I can honestly say that seatbelts do save lives every day. Let’s be honest. How long does it take to put on a seatbelt? A few seconds? , that does not sound too unreasonable to be part of the thousands of lives saved every year does it?.
Many states handle seatbelt laws differently. Some states require seatbelts and some do not. Whether your state requires it or not, before we head out onto the roadway let us think about the people in the car shall we?
The Driver – You. Adults are the WORST offenders about not wearing seatbelts. When you put your seat belt on, you are keeping yourself safer in case of accident and you also give a good example to the other passengers regardless of age.
The Kids – Kids are always watching us to see how we do things and what is acceptable and if you put on your seatbelt every time you get in the car then the kids will begin to model your behavior and after a while it can become an automatic response from them, no matter what car they get in. Now smaller children may need help and may require you to click them in properly and safely before yourself. Infants and smaller children in car seats will obviously need the help but also the children in the booster seats may need some additional help, plus a quick check and tug on the belts they put on by themselves never hurts.
Teenagers – Teenagers are some of the worst offenders of not wearing seatbelts right after adults. Teenagers have an invincibility about them which is normal but should never be allowed to talk you out of making them put on the seatbelt regardless of the distance of the trip.
Pets – We do not normally think about our pets when it comes to seal belt time but pets are passengers too and if the pets are coming with us in the car then there needs to be a way to make sure they are secure. There are a number of pet friendly carries and devices for the car that make this possible.
The bottom line is that seatbelts DO save lives. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to look at someone who just had a car accident and tell them “good thing you were wearing your seat belt “.
Have a Great Summer, Be Safe and Buckle Up……..All of you!
Thank YouPin It
The following infographic is courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide. Many teens are texting and riding in cars without seatbelts…and this doesn’t always stop when our teens start driving. Click here to access the research report and find out more about cars and teen safety.Pin It
“It could never happen to me.” “I would never leave my child alone in the car – not for a minute.” “No GOOD parent would ever forget their child!”
But it happens every day. According to KidsandCars on average 38 children die in hot cars each year, about one every 10 days from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. This year alone there have been 23 child vehicular heat-stroke deaths. And this is not counting the life-altering injuries experienced by the children who survive.
Children climb into unlocked cars to play. A child is sleeping in the back-seat and a parent “cracks open the window” and runs into the store for “just one thing” (…illegal in some states but in a NHTSA survey, 25% of parents admitted they had done this at least once). A spouse / partner / caregiver carefully buckles the baby into the car seat to drop them off at daycare. Maybe it wasn’t their day to drive…or maybe something distracts them for just one second. It’s just a little departure from the usual morning routine – only this time they forget the baby sleeping in the back seat (…more likely now since the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their guidelines to recommend that children remain rear-facing in car seats until they reach the age of two. A parent looking in the rear-view mirror no longer sees their child’s face – just the back of the car seat – whether their child is in it, or not).
…and it doesn’t have to be 100 degrees outside for the consequences to be devastating. According to NHTSA’s report on “Unattended Children and Cars“, even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature to rise well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit inside your car. The inside temperature can rise almost 20 degrees F within the first 10 minutes”. Within an hour the temperature jumps around 50 degrees F. If the outside temperature is in the low 80’s F, the temperature inside the vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes. Slightly rolling the window down has almost no impact on these temperature increases.
Take a look at this simulation produced by the SafeKids organization of how fast a car can heat up when exposed to direct sunlight
Children’s bodies – in particular infants and children under 4 years of age – are at greatest risk for heat-related illness. They absorb more heat and are less able to lower their body heat by sweating. Because a child’s thermoregulatory system is not fully developed, their bodies warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. Hyperthermia occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate. A core body temperature of 107 degrees F is considered lethal because cells are damaged and internal organs shut down.
To the most loving, caring parents…the most responsible caregivers. These are not “those horrible people who should never have been allowed near children”. Take a minute to read Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero’s story about the day her husband Brett took one wrong turn and drove to the office instead of dropping their beloved daughter Sophia (Ray Ray to those who loved her) off at daycare. It wasn’t until they met for lunch later in the day that they realized something was wrong. By that time Ray Ray had been in his truck for 3 hours. An hour and 19 minutes later she was gone.
But this isn’t just Ray Ray’s story. More than 1 in 5 kids who die of heatstroke in a car were supposed to be dropped off at daycare that morning – and no one questioned their whereabouts until it was too late. Now Kristie has made “Ray Ray’s Pledge” her lives’ work – to establish a “daycare safety net” and make sure this doesn’t happen to another child. Other parents have made similar pledges. To share the story of their children’s tragedies here, in interviews, in every public forum possible – in the hopes of saving just one family the pain they have endured.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT ANOTHER TRAGEDY??
- Child Vehicle Heatstroke Prevention Tips from NHTSA:
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.
- Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
- Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
- If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have them call you to make sure the drop went according to plan. Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up.
- Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as:
- Keep a large object such as a stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty. Move the stuffed animal to the front seat when you place the child in the seat as a visual reminder.
- Place your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle
- If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle: call the police. If the
y are in distress get them out as quickly as possible and cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately
- Download the KidsandCars Safety Checklist and keep it handy
- Take Ray Ray’s Pledge
- You Pledge: to call your child’s teacher if he or she will be late or absent
- Teacher Pledges: to call YOU immediately if your child does not arrive at his or her usual time
- Today is National Heat Awareness Day: Please Help Us Raise Awareness!
- Ray Ray’s Pledge, KidsAndCars.org, Safe Kids Worldwide, Jan Null (Certified Consulting Meteorologist, San Francisco State University), Child Care Aware of America, National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) and Pediatric Safety will join the National Weather Service in a day of social media conversation to raise public awareness of child hot car deaths
- We will be tweeting and posting on Facebook every hour on the hour (9am – 5pm ET) facts and prevention tips related to child vehicular heatstroke, the leading non-traffic, non-crash cause of death for children.
- Please join the conversation…and use the hashtag #heatstroke to let us know you’re here.
- For more info and sample tweets click here
“If you think it can’t happen to you, then it could and it might… Tell yourself it COULD happen to me and then do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t.”
And if you ever catch yourself saying…”I’ll only be gone for a moment”… please do two things:
- Consider the following question: If someone gave you a million dollars – would you leave it sitting there unattended in your car – even for a moment? Isn’t your baby’s life worth more?
- Consider watching this video…and then maybe even share it:
Before you do, know that it is very graphic and may be upsetting…so please think twice before you watch it.
Please also know that this was a re-enactment – no one was harmed in the making of this film
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July of 2013. We are republishing it today to commemorate this year’s National Heat Awareness Day.Pin It
“Huh? Forgotten what???” is what I imagine you are asking after reading the title. The next question that probably comes to mind is, “what kind of idiot would forget his/ her own child in a car?” As the parent survivor of a child who was tragically lost to vehicular #heatstroke in 2011 when her daddy forgot to drop her off at daycare that fateful morning, I WISH I could tell you that only idiots make this kind of mistake; that only a selfish monster could do such a deed…..sadly, most of the more than 600 kids who have died from being left in a hot car since 1998 were victims of what I like to call “forgotten backseat baby” syndrome; a mistake committed not by idiots or monsters, but a mistake made by folks you would never in a million years imagine: caring, loving, responsible parents. Most of them took nearly every precaution to child-proof their homes and to assure that the car seat was installed correctly; many of them also took parenting classes in preparation for their bundle of joy’s arrival. Sadly, most of these parents also never imagined the remote possibility of forgetting their child in the backseat of a vehicle. In other words, folks just like YOU and ME, sadly, are capable of forgetting our most precious cargo in the backseat of our cars under the right conditions.
Your protective defense mechanisms are probably kicking in right now and you are probably saying “yeah right, not a chance lady”. …..but for those of you still in denial that you could make such a mistake, here is a little food for thought.
Have you ever, in a moment of multi-tasking, sleep deprivation, running late for work, or being severely fatigued after a bought of illness (you, your spouse, your kids), done any of the following?
- Forgotten to turn off the headlights before exiting your car? (apparently so many of us in the past drained our batteries by doing this that most cars now have automatic function of headlights, or at least have an alert that “dings” when you open the door to let you know you forgot to turn off the lights)
- Left your ATM card in the machine after a transaction? (again, so many of us were guilty of this behavior that now most ATM machines have quick swipe technology so that we no longer have to wait for our cards to be returned)
- Forgotten to buckle your seatbelt? (are you thinking of that annoying alarm right now? So many front passengers have forgotten this safety routine in the past that the auto industry has decided we need this annoying reminder to protect our front seat cargo)
- Forgotten to turn off the coffee maker? (note that most brands now have an auto-shut-off feature for us poor souls who just aren’t fully awake until chugging a cup o’ joe)
- Walked into a room with a purpose to get/ do something, then arriving only to find that you couldn’t remember why you were there – no matter how hard to try?
If you have ever been guilty of any of those behaviors (or similar cases of stress-induced memory failure), then yes, unfortunately, you too are capable of forgetting a baby in the backseat.
I WISH I could tell you only a monster could do such a thing. Unfortunately, even the best of mortals can suffer the devastating consequences of “forgotten backseat baby” syndrome under the right conditions. That’s why I advocate implementation of safety nets/ plans for ALL child transport activities to verify arrival and/ or absence in a timely manner…..EVEN if you are still in denial that you are capable of forgetting your precious backseat cargo, consider a child transport safety plan an “insurance policy” to make sure you prove me wrong.
I lost my daughter, Sophia Rayne “Ray Ray” Cavaliero, to vehicular #heatstroke on Wednesday afternoon, May 25, 2011. That morning, our entire family overslept. Speaking in retrospect (after observing my 20 month old twins during the same phase of their lives), I think we overslept because it was the first time that Ray Ray finally slept through the night. We always called her our little alarm clock, because without fail she would awaken to nurse at 5:00 am, then sweetly drift back to sleep until about 7:30 am. Then we usually played with her for an hour or so before her daddy took her to daycare around 9:00 am. Ray Ray’s behavior was so predictable that I no longer set an alarm clock to awaken. That morning began with me awakening to my sweet child giving me precious kisses all over my face, followed by a glance at the clock. As I saw the time of 9:43 am, chaos ensued in my home. We had all overslept! Brett rushed to get dressed for work; I rushed to get Ray Ray fed and dressed for daycare. The entire family then hurried to daddy’s truck (I was still in PJs).
The defining event that led to Ray Ray’s death due to vehicular heatstroke was something very simple: ONE WRONG TURN. My husband usually made a LEFT turn at the bottom of a major hill near our home to drop our child off at daycare (located less than 10 minutes from our home). After dropping her off, he would circle back onto the same major highway and head to his office, less than 15 minutes from our home. That morning for unknown reasons he made a RIGHT turn at that critical intersection. As Ray Ray sat rear-facing and quietly in the backseat, he had no clue along his work route that she was still in the truck….he couldn’t see her; he couldn’t hear her. WHY did he make this wrong turn? We have asked this question daily for almost three years and still have no answer. What we know (through the criminal investigation) did not contribute to the wrong turn was his phone—records show that he wasn’t talking, emailing, or texting…..Could you ever imagine that ONE WRONG TURN, as I am sure you have probably made a few times in your life as well, could have such devastating consequences???? We couldn’t either….We still can’t; but this is our reality, like a nightmare from which we cannot awaken….cannot awaken because sadly it is not a dream.
The story I have just told to you replicates the story of more than one hundred families since 1998, as forgotten childcare drop-off is the leading source of child hot car death (aka child vehicular heatstroke or hyperthermia). Another resounding theme in nearly every “forgotten backseat baby” syndrome tale resulting in child hot car death is a change in routine on the day of the tragedy. For us, that change in routine was oversleeping, with a resultant chaotic start to our day. For other families, that change in routine was commonly an alternate person dropping the child off at daycare (one not accustomed to doing so). Other common changes in routine that we have seen in these tragedies include changes in school routine–either at the start of summer when grade school has just ended or in August at back to school time, ESPECIALLY where there are multiple siblings in the family and one starts kindergarten and the younger still needs to be dropped off at daycare.
I have shared my story with you today to commemorate the upcoming National Heat Awareness Day (designated by the National Weather Service/ NOAA) this Friday, May 23, 2014. The rate of child vehicular heatstroke tragedies begins to rise exponentially around this date, peaking in August (aka “back to school” time—remember that change in routine risk factor I alluded to earlier???). This year for the first time, numerous national child safety advocates, including the staff at Pediatric Safety, will join forces to commemorate and co-promote this day. We will be posting hourly child vehicular heatstroke facts and prevention tips on social media outlets to raise public awareness of this often unrecognized danger to child passenger safety, focusing on “forgotten backseat baby” syndrome, which is every parent’s unimaginable risk and the leading cause of child hot car deaths. Please join us and help spread vital information to PREVENT child vehicular heatstroke by sharing our social media posts and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. We will be using the tag “#heatstroke” on all of our posts and encourage you to do the same.
Editor’s Note: We are just at the beginning of summer and 5 children have already died this year. Please reach out to everyone you know, to everyone who follows you on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media you have access to – and help us raise awareness of this terrible tragedy.
All it will take is a minute to post any one of these:
- Call 911 if you see a child alone in a car. ACT to prevent child vehicular #heatstroke
- Most kids who die of vehicular #heatstroke are accidentally forgotten in the backseat by a loving, responsible parent.#LOOKbeforeyouLOCK
- Forgotten childcare drop-off is the #1 source of child vehicular #heatstroke. #RayRaysPledge
- A child overheats 3-5 times faster than an adult. Never leave your child alone in a car. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
- 30% of kids who died in a hot car gained access to an unlocked vehicle. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
- The inside temperature of a car increases more than 40 degrees in less than an hour. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
- Most kids who die in a hot car are less than 2 years of age. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
- Most common factor associated with parents who forgot their kids in the backseat: change in routine. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
- Is your child in daycare? Make an absence verification plan w ur provider aka #RayRaysPledge. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
- Create reminders for all child transport activities eg: purse/ briefcase/ cellphone in backseat. Prevent vehicular #heatstroke
If we can save just one child’s life, all our efforts will have been worth it.