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Old 06-04-2013, 01:46 PM
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How do parents adjust after leaving a child in a hot car?

I can not imagine the anguish one must feel upon discovering they have done the unthinkable: killed their own child by leaving him or her in a car on a hot day. Having two little ones myself, I can't even fathom how I would even go on after such a thing.

Anyway, I just saw a headline about some left-in-car deaths already this year and it got me to thinking about how people do adjust in the months and years afterward. I imagine these people aren't all self-absorbed monsters or drug-addled zombies, most of them, I would think are just regular people who messed up beyond belief. Anyone know of any stories out there that they could link to that discuss the aftereffects of this? Anyone have any first-hand knowledge of someone who did this? I couldn't find anything via Google aside from reports of this sort of thing happening.

ETA: I put this in GQ because I'm looking for actual links, but perhaps this would be better suited for another forum?

Last edited by Happy Lendervedder; 06-04-2013 at 01:47 PM.
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Old 06-04-2013, 02:06 PM
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If you haven't seen it, this Pulitzer Prize winning article is required reading on the subject.
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Old 06-04-2013, 02:17 PM
Xema Xema is offline
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Here's a (Pulitzer Prize winning) Washington Post article Fatal Distraction that does about as good a job as is possible of answering the question. Warning: long, engaging, heart-rending.

(This took forever to post, and was scooped in the meantime.)

Last edited by Xema; 06-04-2013 at 02:19 PM.
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Old 06-04-2013, 02:36 PM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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I saw a fiction book in the review pile at work a few months ago that dealt with this subject, but I can't remember the title, and Google hasn't helped. Any ideas?
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Old 06-04-2013, 03:40 PM
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Originally Posted by YamatoTwinkie View Post
If you haven't seen it, this Pulitzer Prize winning article is required reading on the subject.
I have to say, as a parent, that was one of the toughest things I have ever read.
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Old 06-04-2013, 03:45 PM
Anaamika Anaamika is offline
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I have to say, as a parent, that was one of the toughest things I have ever read.
You don't even have to be a parent. I've read that article a couple of times over the years and every time it makes me want to cry.
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Old 06-04-2013, 03:46 PM
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Thanks for posting that article. That was very insightful. And Hermitian, I agree. It actually took me a couple of hours to get through it. I'd read a paragraph or two and then go do something else.
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Old 06-04-2013, 05:57 PM
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I have come face to face with a handful of parents who inadvertently caused their child's death. One phrase comes to mind that describes them: Pitiable and incomprehensible demoralization.

One dad had to be restrained from drowning himself.

The cited article is hard to read, but quite good.
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Old 06-04-2013, 06:09 PM
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You don't even have to be a parent. I've read that article a couple of times over the years and every time it makes me want to cry.
I'm not crying, I'm absolutely terrified. Especially this sentence:
Quote:
An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just... forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall.
FIFTEEN TO TWENTY-FIVE TIMES A YEAR?!?

Actually, when I think about it I'm a little surprised the number's that small, considering how much time kids spend in cars and how often the parent doing the driving is the only adult present.

I hereby resolve that as a pedestrian I'm going to be more vigilant about glancing into parked cars in parking lots. Even as an uninvolved non-parent, how awful would it be to read about a child's hyperthermia death and realize that I must have gone past that very car earlier in the day but just not noticed the child?
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Old 06-04-2013, 07:36 PM
April R April R is offline
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I won't even try to read that link. I am getting ready to have my third child tomorrow and I can't even imagine the heartbreak involved in forgetting your child is in the car and their subsequent death. How awful
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Old 06-04-2013, 07:42 PM
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Awesome article - I can't imagine what those parents are going through.
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Old 06-04-2013, 07:53 PM
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I've met one mother who left her two boys in the car while she partied in a hotel room. She was being prosecuted for the crime and was a shambling wreck of a person in that time. Utterly destroyed, just like her sons.
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Old 06-04-2013, 08:04 PM
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Originally Posted by YamatoTwinkie View Post
If you haven't seen it, this Pulitzer Prize winning article is required reading on the subject.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xema View Post
Here's a (Pulitzer Prize winning) Washington Post article Fatal Distraction that does about as good a job as is possible of answering the question. Warning: long, engaging, heart-rending.

(This took forever to post, and was scooped in the meantime.)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaamika View Post
You don't even have to be a parent. I've read that article a couple of times over the years and every time it makes me want to cry.
Quote:
Originally Posted by April R View Post
I won't even try to read that link. I am getting ready to have my third child tomorrow and I can't even imagine the heartbreak involved in forgetting your child is in the car and their subsequent death. How awful
Believe me, you are better off not opening the link. I read part of the details of how the end can occur and I regret it.

And I'm not even a parent, just an uncle and great-uncle.
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Old 06-04-2013, 09:10 PM
YamatoTwinkie YamatoTwinkie is offline
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I have to say, as a parent, that was one of the toughest things I have ever read.
I first read it a few years ago, and I got through the whole article ok. After becoming a parent, I got about a paragraph in and go "No thanks, I'm out!" and quickly close the browser.
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:01 PM
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I had one of these incidents as a 9-1-1 call. The parent absolutely could not speak.
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:09 PM
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I am getting ready to have my third child tomorrow
[hijack] Woot!! Go April!! When come back bring pix. [/hijack]
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:11 PM
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I read that article one of the earlier times we discussed this and I have to say, without exaggeration, it's probably the most memorable and affecting thing I've ever read. I'm still haunted by it, and by one of the descriptions in it.

I just cannot imagine how the parents go on after this - either of them. It's so easy to say, but nonetheless true, that losing a child must be the worst thing a parent can face. I surprised myself by finding that one of my reactions to having a second child was confusion - I thought I had known that had anything fatal ever happened to my first, my only possible action would have been to die with her. Now here was a second, and I knew that was not an option, even if it ever had been. But to know that something you had done, or failed to do, caused the death of your child, in such a manner - how could you live? I don't place the blame at all on the parent - especially after reading that article. We have all let our attention slip (god, yesterday my 2 year old went missing in the Singapore aquarium for the longest 5 minutes of my life) and there but for the grace of god etc. It's unbearable to comprehend.
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:39 PM
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I'm still haunted by it ...
As am I. Here's one of the most haunting sentences:
SPOILER:

Quote:
Several people -- including Mary Parks of Blacksburg -- have driven from their workplace to the day-care center to pick up the child they'd thought they'd dropped off, never noticing the corpse in the back seat.
It's difficult to imagine something more horrible than what must have been her reaction the moment she turned and looked into the back seat.
  #19  
Old 06-04-2013, 11:36 PM
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Hereís a suggestion that occurred to me while reading the article.

Keep a huge, bright stuffed animal in the back seat of your car. Every time you put your kid in his car seat, put the animal in the front passenger seat, with the seat belt around it. Only put the animal there when your child is in his car seat. When youíre getting out of the car, youíre more likely to notice the animal than an empty seat. Youíll know right away that your kidís still in the car.

Does this make sense? Is this something like what some people already do?
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Old 06-04-2013, 11:44 PM
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That was a pretty good article.

In response to the OP, I imagine its something they never get over. It is like a hole in their heart that will never be filled. I think raising awareness about the issue is important. I wonder how many parents had heard of this phenomenon before losing their own child.
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Old 06-04-2013, 11:46 PM
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Hereís a suggestion that occurred to me while reading the article.

Keep a huge, bright stuffed animal in the back seat of your car. Every time you put your kid in his car seat, put the animal in the front passenger seat, with the seat belt around it. Only put the animal there when your child is in his car seat. When youíre getting out of the car, youíre more likely to notice the animal than an empty seat. Youíll know right away that your kidís still in the car.

Does this make sense? Is this something like what some people already do?
According to that WP article - most people assume its impossible this will happen to them. People are busy and habits like these are likely to be skipped when they become inconvenient.

Makes sense though. I do some things like that - like always using my key to lock the door to my house - that way it's impossible to lock myself out. But that's about the extent I will go to - things more inconvenient than that I generally won't do...
  #22  
Old 06-04-2013, 11:52 PM
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Hereís a suggestion that occurred to me while reading the article.

Keep a huge, bright stuffed animal in the back seat of your car. Every time you put your kid in his car seat, put the animal in the front passenger seat, with the seat belt around it. Only put the animal there when your child is in his car seat. When youíre getting out of the car, youíre more likely to notice the animal than an empty seat. Youíll know right away that your kidís still in the car.

Does this make sense? Is this something like what some people already do?
Yeah that makes sense. It would be pretty hard to miss the teddy bear.

However, you would have to be extremely disciplined with this or I fear it might backfire. If you conditioned your mind to see the teddy bear and forgot it, it could actually have caused the accident in the first place.
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Old 06-04-2013, 11:56 PM
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I've wondered how old a kid has to be before they get out of the car on their own?

I can remember even at five or six getting too hot and going into the front of the store. Didn't take long to cool down in the air conditioned store. Mom never got upset because she knew I'd only do it if the car was too much for me.

Babies are the most vulnerable and it rips me up to think of them forgotten in a hot car.

Last edited by aceplace57; 06-05-2013 at 12:00 AM.
  #24  
Old 06-05-2013, 12:09 AM
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I've wondered how old a kid has to be before they get out of the car on their own?
There's an age distribution here. 87% of children who died in hot cars were 3 or younger.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 06-05-2013 at 12:10 AM.
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Old 06-05-2013, 12:28 AM
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According to that WP article - most people assume its impossible this will happen to them. ...
even here on the dope, i remember a few vocal dopers claiming that it would never happen to them, that they could never forget their own baby.

my suggestion would be a proximity alarm between the baby seat and a key chain. it arms itself when the baby seat is belted in and triggers when you wander a certain distance away while baby is still belted in.
  #26  
Old 06-05-2013, 12:29 AM
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However, you would have to be extremely disciplined with this or I fear it might backfire. If you conditioned your mind to see the teddy bear and forgot it, it could actually have caused the accident in the first place.
But it would only be there when the kid's in the back. Even if you happen to look at it while you're driving, it would always reinforce the message. And you would also notice its absence when the kid's not with you. The assumption, of course, is that you always follow the protocol.
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Old 06-05-2013, 12:36 AM
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Allow me to don my flameproof suit and say that I personally believe that a huge percentage of those are not accidents.
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Old 06-05-2013, 01:08 AM
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Allow me to don my flameproof suit and say that I personally believe that a huge percentage of those are not accidents.
Yeah?

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Old 06-05-2013, 01:29 AM
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The assumption, of course, is that you always follow the protocol.
That's the catch.
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Old 06-05-2013, 01:56 AM
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Wow what a powerful article. Thank you for sharing. It was extremely difficult to read. I am not a parent yet but I am looking forward to the day I get to adopt my first child and this was just such a powerful piece of journalism.

nearwildhaven, you should read the article in full if you haven't. There are a few sentences in there about people like you who separate themselves from these sorts of "monsters." It's a natural human thing to do.

Last edited by drewtwo99; 06-05-2013 at 01:57 AM.
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Old 06-05-2013, 01:56 AM
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I'm not a parent. If I ever become one, I'm going to have a daily Outlook reminder that goes off an hour after I start work (or whatever an acceptable interval is...maybe less), where the computer tells me to take 5 minutes and go look in the back seat of the car...whether I expect a child to be there or not.

Or maybe my morning routine involves a stop at Starbucks for a pastry...and the rule is that the pastry bag has to go in the (empty) carseat. Of course, the one day I don't make it to Starbucks...

I guess my real point is that this is the most horrifying thing, and we would all do whatever mental cartwheels are necessary to avoid it.

Last edited by E. Thorp; 06-05-2013 at 01:58 AM.
  #32  
Old 06-05-2013, 02:01 AM
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I'm not a parent. If I ever become one, I'm going to have a daily Outlook reminder that goes off an hour after I start work (or whatever an acceptable interval is...maybe less)
Much less on a hot day.
  #33  
Old 06-05-2013, 02:31 AM
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Hereís a suggestion that occurred to me while reading the article.

Keep a huge, bright stuffed animal in the back seat of your car. Every time you put your kid in his car seat, put the animal in the front passenger seat, with the seat belt around it. Only put the animal there when your child is in his car seat. When youíre getting out of the car, youíre more likely to notice the animal than an empty seat. Youíll know right away that your kidís still in the car.

Does this make sense? Is this something like what some people already do?
I know people who always put their backpack, bag, jacket or equivalent in the back seat specifically so they'll always have to get it before leaving the car.
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Old 06-05-2013, 02:35 AM
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Can I just say that this is a really excellent idea.

How are these not actually in production?

--
Gah... sorry. This was meant to be in reply to post #25.

Last edited by RobDog; 06-05-2013 at 02:37 AM.
  #35  
Old 06-05-2013, 03:11 AM
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Can I just say that this is a really excellent idea.

How are these not actually in production?
There's not a big market for that type of device. It's something that other, bad parents need.

ETA: From the article linked in post #2:

Quote:
One big problem was liability. If you made it, you could face enormous lawsuits if it malfunctioned and a child died. But another big problem was psychological: Marketing studies suggested it wouldn't sell well.

The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 06-05-2013 at 03:12 AM.
  #36  
Old 06-05-2013, 06:09 AM
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Ugh I posted and then the SDMB crashed as it as been doing lately. Bloody hamsters.

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Originally Posted by Lord Feldon View Post
There's an age distribution here. 87% of children who died in hot cars were 3 or younger.
When I was looking for a source for the other thread I came across a news item about two children rescued from a hot car. They were 7 and 8 years old, and they had been afraid to get out because their mother had told them to stay.

I think the plans to prevent this from happening are good ideas, but the problem is still that on that day, it just happened to be the day that all those mechanisms failed because things were different. That's what I got from the article: what they said about the holes in the cheese all lining up.

I once left my dog in the car, for all of ten minutes on a cold day. Everything was just a little different that day. We weren't coming back from a walk, we were coming back from town. I wasn't wearing wellies. She wasn't sitting up helping me drive, she was asleep in the back. Her lead wasn't in my lap as I drove. My mind was on something else. So all the holes in the cheese lined up. It makes me wonder how often it happens that parents remember just in time. It's probably quite a taboo thing to admit.

On a lighter note, my mum once forgot my little sister's imaginary friend in the car, and had to walk back through the rain to get him out. He was fine. Apparently.
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Old 06-05-2013, 07:20 AM
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I imagine these people aren't all self-absorbed monsters or drug-addled zombies, most of them, I would think are just regular people who messed up beyond belief. Anyone know of any stories out there that they could link to that discuss the aftereffects of this? Anyone have any first-hand knowledge of someone who did this? I couldn't find anything via Google aside from reports of this sort of thing happening.
In a quarter century of taking care of assorted tragedies that end up in the Emergency Department, I've seen my share of events where the injury or death results to a different individual from the one who precipitated the event. I am reluctant to say, "The one who is at fault."

The sort of case you describe here, along with similar events such as killing a baby by running it over with a vehicle, are caused by "just regular people who messed up beyond belief" in my opinion. They are caused by just regular people who did exactly what the rest of us do every day: become distracted; forget something; make an error. In a tiny percentage of those sorts of events, a tragedy results. But the idea that it happens just to people who "mess up" is neither accurate nor fair, in my view. We all mess up, every day, and the difference between me and the parent who kills their child is luck.

I am struck by the stupidity of our legal system. More precisely, perhaps, by the stupidity of prosecutors who do not distinguish between a negligent mother who chooses to be careless and a human being who is fallible and whose error is no different in degree than the same errors all of us make every day.

Two other comments.

First, I do not believe there is "no market" for safety devices to prevent leaving a kid in a car seat because of a perception it would only happen to someone else. There seems to be no upper end to devices which promote safety. I suspect the reason is pure liability. Perhaps my cynicism about our tort system is showing.

Second, there is no question in my mind that the backward car seat contributes mightily to this particular problem. I'd be interested seeing an analysis of net lives saved by having the car seat face backward, given this unintended consequence.
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Old 06-05-2013, 07:36 AM
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How the fuck do you forget that you left a kid in the car? Seriously, no excuse. None.

My kids are in their 20's, I'll happily confess the I left them in the car when they were little, deliberately, while I ducked into a shop to pay for petrol or grab milk or bread. 2 minutes in and out every time. If it was going to be longer than that, I took them.

Shit, I spent my cousins 21st sitting in the car in the car park on my own outside the club because their licensing laws were over 18 only and my parents couldn't get a babysitter. I had a torch, a stack of comics, and Dad came out every hour or so to bring me a bag of chips, a drink or just to check. Mind you, that was the 70's and it was night and I was about 8 years old.

Stop making excuses for stupidity people, if you leave a kid in a car on a hot day while you float off for an hour or so, you're a murderer.
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Old 06-05-2013, 07:59 AM
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Second, there is no question in my mind that the backward car seat contributes mightily to this particular problem. I'd be interested seeing an analysis of net lives saved by having the car seat face backward, given this unintended consequence.
There are only about 20 deaths per year (yeah, I don't mean "only", I mean... it's not a leading cause of death). I imagine there are far more car accidents. So on balance it's probably better to have the child facing back.

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Originally Posted by stui magpie View Post
How the fuck do you forget that you left a kid in the car? Seriously, no excuse. None.

[...]

Stop making excuses for stupidity people, if you leave a kid in a car on a hot day while you float off for an hour or so, you're a murderer.
You should really read the linked article. Really. I mean, really. It is not stupidity. It is a horrendous tragedy.
  #40  
Old 06-05-2013, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by stui magpie View Post
How the fuck do you forget that you left a kid in the car? Seriously, no excuse. None.
Please go read the article, which you obviously haven't.

Quote:
Shit, I spent my cousins 21st sitting in the car in the car park on my own outside the club because their licensing laws were over 18 only and my parents couldn't get a babysitter. I had a torch, a stack of comics, and Dad came out every hour or so to bring me a bag of chips, a drink or just to check. Mind you, that was the 70's and it was night and I was about 8 years old.
Yeah, and if you got overheated you could unlock the door and let yourself out, right? We're not talking about mobile and able-bodied 8 year olds, we're talking about infants strapped into car seats. Again, you clearly didn't bother to find out what the actual topic is.

Quote:
Stop making excuses for stupidity people, if you leave a kid in a car on a hot day while you float off for an hour or so, you're a murderer.
Please, please make an effort to correct your ignorance before shooting off your mouth.
  #41  
Old 06-05-2013, 08:27 AM
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Originally Posted by stui magpie View Post
How the fuck do you forget that you left a kid in the car? Seriously, no excuse. None.

My kids are in their 20's, I'll happily confess the I left them in the car when they were little, deliberately, while I ducked into a shop to pay for petrol or grab milk or bread. 2 minutes in and out every time. If it was going to be longer than that, I took them.

Shit, I spent my cousins 21st sitting in the car in the car park on my own outside the club because their licensing laws were over 18 only and my parents couldn't get a babysitter. I had a torch, a stack of comics, and Dad came out every hour or so to bring me a bag of chips, a drink or just to check. Mind you, that was the 70's and it was night and I was about 8 years old.

Stop making excuses for stupidity people, if you leave a kid in a car on a hot day while you float off for an hour or so, you're a murderer.
Frankly, I don't care what you think. But I was asking for stories and links that describe how people who do this sort of thing cope.

But as others have said, read the article that was posted. It may change your perspective. But even if it doesn't, it's not surprising. People commonly like to demonize these parents because it makes them feel better about themselves.
  #42  
Old 06-05-2013, 08:30 AM
Blackberry Blackberry is offline
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Stop making excuses for stupidity people, if you leave a kid in a car on a hot day while you float off for an hour or so, you're a murderer.
That makes no sense. Making a mistake out of stupidity is not murder.
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Old 06-05-2013, 08:36 AM
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Originally Posted by stui magpie View Post
...
My kids are in their 20's, I'll happily confess the I left them in the car when they were little, deliberately, while I ducked into a shop to pay for petrol or grab milk or bread. 2 minutes in and out every time. If it was going to be longer than that, I took them...
and if, during those 2 minutes, someone broke into your car and drove it away?

It happens...

http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-cou...ar-baby-inside
  #44  
Old 06-05-2013, 08:44 AM
Bill Door Bill Door is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobDog View Post
and if, during those 2 minutes, someone broke into your car and drove it away?

It happens...

http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-cou...ar-baby-inside
And people drop dead of undiagnosed heart disease. If it happens with your child in the car how long does that two minutes turn into?
  #45  
Old 06-05-2013, 09:10 AM
Frylock Frylock is offline
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Originally Posted by gracer View Post
It's probably quite a taboo thing to admit.
It probably is, and its a pernicious taboo that lends credence to the idea that it only happens to other, bad parents. So I want to note here:

Many months ago, I left to go get ice cream for the family, and my wife asked me to take one of the twins. I put him in the back of the car with a bottle, and (I assume) he almost immediately fell asleep. Never made a sound. By the time I got to the Baskin Robins, I had completely forgotten he was back there. I left him in hot weather in the car with the windows rolled up. I was in the store for about ten minutes, so very thankfully, the kid was not harmed. But when I got back out to the car and realized what had happened, I immediately woke him up and checked for alertness and felt his temperature etc. He seemed fine. I then sat in the front seat and wept for a good, long while.
  #46  
Old 06-05-2013, 09:27 AM
gracer gracer is offline
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It probably is, and its a pernicious taboo that lends credence to the idea that it only happens to other, bad parents. So I want to note here:

Many months ago, I left to go get ice cream for the family, and my wife asked me to take one of the twins. I put him in the back of the car with a bottle, and (I assume) he almost immediately fell asleep. Never made a sound. By the time I got to the Baskin Robins, I had completely forgotten he was back there. I left him in hot weather in the car with the windows rolled up. I was in the store for about ten minutes, so very thankfully, the kid was not harmed. But when I got back out to the car and realized what had happened, I immediately woke him up and checked for alertness and felt his temperature etc. He seemed fine. I then sat in the front seat and wept for a good, long while.
You're right, it is really good to say this. There will be so many more people who have done this. You must've had such a shock. Like I said, I did with my dog. If I can forget my dog, I can forget a child.

I'm glad our old VW Beetle in Brazil didn't have glass in the windows! But I would definitely buy an alarm, if one was on the market.
  #47  
Old 06-05-2013, 09:34 AM
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Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by panache45 View Post
The assumption, of course, is that you always follow the protocol.
Quote:
Originally Posted by panaccione View Post
That's the catch.
Indeed - not the same stakes, obviously, but I have a protocol in the morning that ensures I arrive at the train station with my season ticket and my ID pass for work. It's quite important that I follow this, or else I have to walk the 3 mile round trip back home to get them - and this will also make me late for work. There's absolutely no reason why I should ever want to neglect this protocol, and yet, once in the last 5 years, some exceptional level of distraction before leaving the house had me arrive at the station empty handed.

Hindsight makes accidents - even tragic ones - look more obviously avoidable than in fact they are.
  #48  
Old 06-05-2013, 09:36 AM
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Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Or to put it another way, think about any kind of accident. Have you ever trodden in dog shit? Did you really want to tread in dog shit? If not, why did you do it? Perfectly avoidable, so why didn't you avoid it?
  #49  
Old 06-05-2013, 10:32 AM
AtomicDog AtomicDog is offline
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Is the risk of forgetting that a child is in the back seat of a car greater than the risk of injury or death if the child is in the front seat of a car next to the driver?

If so, I think it's time to start putting children back in the front seat.
  #50  
Old 06-05-2013, 10:39 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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The airbag in the front is going to be complicating risk factor.
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