The death of another child after being left in a hot car could be an indicator that these incidents are on the rise. Just a few short weeks after a 22-month-old Georgia toddler died after being left in a sweltering car for seven hours, authorities have ruled a similar death in Connecticut a homicide. The country watched at first in sympathy and then in horror as the circumstances around the death of Justin Ross Harris’s young son unfolded.
Initially, it was believed that Harris had made an honest mistake. He was to have dropped his son off at daycare on his way to work. Allegedly he forgot that the child was in the back seat and went in to work. Harris went back to his car around lunchtime for some reason or another, however, it was not until he left work at the end of the day that he realized his son had been left in the car. Harris was charged with cruelty to children and murder. The investigation continues with authorities trying to trace Harris’s activities using several of his personal digital devices.
Meanwhile in Connecticut, a similar incident occurred on July 7, 2014. In this case, 15-month-old Benjamin Seitz was left in his father’s vehicle after his father also forgot to drop him off at daycare. Although the incidents are frighteningly similar and little Benjamin’s death has been ruled a homicide, no criminal charges have been filed as yet. Other cases of children being left in hot cars, in Kansas, in Texas, and in Florida may lead one to believe that the number of deaths related to children being left in hot cars is on the rise.
According to data published by the University of San Francisco’s Department of Earth and Climate Services, however, the number of hot car deaths has remained relatively stable. So far in 2014, 23 such deaths have been reported. This number represents a slight decline based on the 44 such incidents reported in 2013 but the average number of hot car deaths from 1998 to the present is 38 per year.
In a little over half the cases, the caregiver simply forgot that the child was in the car. In a little less than a third of the reports, children may have unintentionally trapped themselves in a hot car and could not get out and in about 20 percent of the cases children were left by adults in an intentional effort to bring harm. No matter the number or the reason, however, most people would not hesitate to agree that a child should never be left in a hot car to die.
Some have wondered if auto-makers should be tasked with solving the problem by installing some sort of alert. In a recent CNN report, the question of government intervention was posed and in Tennessee, one dad, obsessed with fear that he might one day leave one of his children in a hot car, has created an app that helps him to “Remember the kids.” Any time he stops his car for more than three minutes, the application sends out an alert.
In Connecticut, Benjamin Seitz’s grieving mother has begun the process of raising awareness and proposing solutions to this problem. She has been researching the issue and was surprised to discover that the problem has been occurring for over 10 years. Though the numbers do not seem to be rising, even one more accidental death of a child as a result of being left in a hot car is too much for most people to bear. With advocates, law makers and parents who have lost their children working together on this issue, it may be possible to prevent the rise of hot car deaths.
By Constance Spruill