Safety B.I.B. Blog Post

"It would never happen to ME!"

"It would never happen to ME!"

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Posted in General on September 15, 2014

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How many of you read the stories of children forgotten in hot vehicles and think, "My god, I would never be able to forget my child in the car!  How could anyone do that??"

That's the most common reaction to something such as a child being unintentionally left in the back of a vehicle that can rapidly heat to lethal temperatures.

But as Ashley Fantz recently reported on CNN, there are scientific explanations to how a brain could forget something like your infant in the backseat.

Seven years ago, Lyn Balfour forgot her 9-month-old son in the family car for the work day.  A former service member, Balfour served a tour in Bosnia, one in Iraq.  In her employment, she's managed tens of millions of dollars in projects.  Yet somehow, she became "the type of mother who would accidentally forget her child.", a national non-profit organization, attempts to track the statistics of hot-car deaths across the United States.  Occasionally, the group hears from parents who, after years of silence and shame, reach out with their stories.  Among their members are a veterinarian, a doctor, a dentist, a professor, a school principal and a rocket scientist - not quite the profiles expected amongst parents who have unintentionally forgotten their children.

For the past ten years, David Diamond, a psychology and molecular physiology professor at University of South Florida, has been researching a syndrome that has become known as "Forgotten Baby Syndrome."  Diamond believes that FBS involves a "clash between prospective memory and another form of memory, referred to as habit memory." 
Prospective memory is made up of two structures: the hippocampus which is responsible for storing new information, and the prefontal cortex which enables planning.  Your prospective memory works together, with the hippocampus storing information that a child is in the car, and the prefonal cortex allowing you to alter your habitual routine to allow for an unplanned event such as a daycare drop-off.

The danger occurs in the clash that Diamond writes of - when your habitual memory, responsible for allowing you to drive to work on "auto-pilot," wins the war waged with your prospective memory.

This scientific process is what happened when CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, along with her husband, accidentally forgot their infant daughter in the car during a shopping trip.  She wrote about the near-tragedy in a Opinion piece:

"Walking into the garden center, my husband turned to me and said: 'My God. We left Paloma in the car.' I screamed, dropped my purse, ran to the car and opened the door. The car was already warm. Her face already flushed. But she was fine and still sleeping. I was ashamed, embarrassed and horrified at what I had done.

"It dawned on me immediately -- I could have killed my girl," she wrote.

Hostin recalls her stance before having experienced it first-hand:
"Before I left Paloma in that hot car, I would have said that the anguish that this parent would feel is not enough of a punishment. Had you asked me about one of these cases, I would have told you that I am a watchful mother and would never, ever do that."
She would have agreed that all parents must be prosecuted in these situations.

The tragedy that could follow accidentally leaving your child in a vehicle is a real threat, and a real danger that can happen to anyone.

Many mothers honestly think, I would never in my life be capable of forgetting my child...

But it still happens - there are hot-car deaths amongst children on average EVERY 12 DAYS.

If you are convinced it could never happen to you, then support us for your neighbor and their infant.  Or for your brother- or sister-in-law with children.  Or for your best friend who just had their first child.

Help us prevent hot-car deaths with SafetyBIB!