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New app reminds parents about kids in hot cars

by Catherine Holland

Related GMAZ segment by Heidi Goitia

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 1 at 10:13 AM

PHOENIX -- It's unthinkable. A parent accidentally forgetting a baby, unknowingly leaving him or her in the car to die of heatstroke.

It happens every year and no parent or caregiver, no matter how conscientious, is immune. It's a mind-boggling phenomenon, and it has a name -- Forgotten Baby Syndrome. Experts say it can happen to anyone.

I know what you're thinking. "I'm not careless so that could never happen to me." Or perhaps, "I would never, ever forget my child in the car."

That's what Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, a 35-year-old Connecticut mother of three, thought. And then it happened to her family. Her husband accidentally left her 15-month-old toddler, Benjamin, in the car.

And he's not alone.

According to KidsandCars.org, a national nonprofit group dedicated to keeping kids safe in and around cars, 19 kids have died of heatstroke this year after their parents or caregivers left them in hot cars. Benjamin was one of them.

Now Rogers-Seitz, an attorney, is speaking out and sharing her family's story, and she's using National Heatstroke Prevention Day -- July 31 -- to do it.

Photo courtesy TheGiftofBen.com

"After the tragic death of my son, I began researching as much as I could to try to wrap my brain around how and why this happens to people like my husband - we are responsible, conscientious, loving parents. We could be you, your neighbors, your best friends," she said in a news release.

"Ben was cherished so, and losing him in this manner has brought a profound grief. We realize that we cannot allow others to feel this pain needlessly, so we are urging automobile and car seat manufacturers, legislators, regulators, health and safety experts, victims and other interested parties to come together to quickly find the most effective solution before more lives are lost," she said.

Nobody has found a foolproof solution yet, but an organization called Kars4Kids is giving parents one more tool to keep their precious cargo safe in the form of a free smartphone app.

"Unfortunately this is a tragic trend that's only been growing through the years," said Morris Franco, a media specialist who works with Kars4Kids and is helping spread the word about the app. He explained that there have been nearly 720 children who died after being left in hot cars between 1991 and 2013, according to KidsandCars.org data. It's not known how many were injured.

"The data speaks for itself," Franco continued. "It comes out to basically one child every 10 days is dying because of this tragedy, because of what we call Forgotten Baby Syndrome. … It's hitting a huge, wide spectrum of professionals -- intelligent people. You can't just chalk it up to just being an irresponsible parent."

It all has to do with how memory works, according to Dr. David Diamond, a University of South Florida professor who has conducted extensive research on Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

Have you ever driven to or from work, but not remembered it? You were functioning on automatic memory as opposed to conscious memory. While the two normally work together, there are times when "autopilot" kicks in. It can be due to stress or lack of sleep, any number of factors, really. But that's when tragedy happens.

The Kars4Kids Safety app is designed to help avert that with a simple reminder.

It uses Bluetooth technology. While Bluetooth is built into many new cars, it's easy and relatively inexpensive to add to any vehicle. I found a Jabra Drive in-car Bluetooth speakerphone for about $35 on Amazon. There are a variety of other options.

The concept is simple. The Kars4Kids Safety app connects to a Bluetooth device in your car. When you leave the car and it disconnects, the app sounds an alarm on your phone.

There are three main settings.

  • Always enable -- App activates every time Bluetooth is connected
  • Time frame -- App activates during a time frame that you designate
  • Notification -- App notifies you before activating

You also choose the alarm sound -- it can be something you record -- and include your baby's name and photo.

While the app is a wonderful tool for parents, it's not something on which they should rely. It even carries a warning stating that in no uncertain terms.

"Kars4Kids Safety app is designed as an emergency backup to careful parental and adult monitoring, not as a substitute for such monitoring," reads the app's description. "Always perform a visual check for your children and do not rely on Kars4Kids Safety as your sole safety check."

Technology, like the people who create it, is fallible.

The problem could be something as simple as batteries running down.

You also have to keep in mind that Bluetooth radio technology works within a set distance. If you're not far enough away from your vehicle, the Bluetooth will not disconnect. That means the alarm will not sound.

I went shopping the other day and was thrilled to find a parking space close to the store entrance. It was close enough that the Bluetooth remained connected. I was inside for about 40 minutes, more than long enough for a child to suffer heatstroke.

The same is true of my home. My parking space is right behind it, close enough that the Bluetooth remains connected.

That said, the free Kars4Kids Safety app offers parents one more line of defense against a potentially fatal mistake.

The app is available on Google Play. There is no iPhone version at this point, and while creating one is under consideration, there are no set plans to do so.

Franco said the Kids4Cars app should be used in conjunction with other safety tips suggested by KidsandCard.org.

Photo courtesy Robyn Mackenzie via 123RF Stock Photo

  • Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
  • Put something you'll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., on the floorboard in the back seat underneath the child's car seat.
  • Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit. We call this the "Look Before You Lock" campaign.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat when it's not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that anytime the stuffed animal is up front you know the child is in the back seat in a child safety seat.
  • Make arrangements with your child's day care center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled.
  • Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times; even in the garage or driveway.
  • Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
  • When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
  • If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule chnges and periods of crisis or holidays.
  • Use drive-thru services when available. (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.)
  • Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers similar tips as part of its "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock" awareness campaign.

As part of the effort, the agency is urging people to use the tags #checkforbaby and #heatstrokekills in their social media posts Thursday, which is National Heatstroke Prevention Day. To learn more, visit www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke or SafeKids.org/heatstroke.

Kars4Kids is a nonprofit organization that gives back to the community through education, family outreach and faith-based programs. You've probably heard its memorable jingle on the radio.

"Our No. 1 focus is child advocacy," Franco said. "Putting out this baby app was just another way to express our advocacy for children. … It's just a helpful tool for responsible, loving, caring parents to stay focused on what's really important."

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