KIDSANDCARS.ORG / KIDS AND CARS
How could a parent forget their child in the car? That is a question people ask every summer as dozens of children die in hot cars, forgotten by their parents. Eric Stuyvesant used to be one of them. Edward Golob, a psychology professor and an expert in human memory at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says people generally have too much faith in their brains. "I think people think cognition works better than it actually does,” he said. “We want to give it more credit. But perception, attention, and memory, they all have really strong limitations. They don't work nearly as well as we think they do." Golob said thinking your children are too important to forget is dangerous. "The kids are obviously the most important thing going on in the car, right? But other things capture our attention very easily, and attention doesn't necessarily know what's important,” he said. “For some things that are more dramatic — a very loud sound, for example — that will capture your attention, no problem. “But more subtle things that you need to attend to — if you're really focused on something, if you're feeling a little stress — you can easily make these sorts of mistakes." In Stuyvesant's case, he usually dropped Michael off at daycare before dropping his wife off at work. On the day of the accident, he drove his wife to work first, and he intended to drop Michael off next, but his brain wanted to go home. Golob said using this tendency to go on autopilot may help safeguard your kids. "So, for example, when I put the kids in the car or take them out of the car, I have a routine,” he said. “I walk all the way around the car and look through the windows and look at them.” Golob then talks with them, or sings “or anything to get them on your mind, so it's recent and vivid. That'll also make it a little harder to forget that they're there." Golob added other things to incorporate into a routine include leaving a purse, a briefcase, your lunch or your phone in the back seat with your children, whether the kids are in the car or not. It has to be something you always do for it to become part of the autopilot process, he said. "Just check. Even when you think they're not there, check," Stuyvesant said. So far, this year there have been 25 confirmed heatstroke deaths in cars in the U.S. Two of them were in Texas.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie