Friday, December 8, 2023

Forgotten Baby Syndrome is real and can be deadly

When you think about it, it sounds totally crazy: Experts recommend that parents of young children put something “important” in the back seat of their car in an effort to help them remember that their child is back there and don’t accidentally leave their child in the car.

After all, what’s more important than your child?

In reality however, life does distract us and we simply lose focus and forget.

Over the last 20 years across the United States there have been more than 700 instances of children dying – most of them 3 years of age or younger – after being forgotten in a car, usually in hot weather.

It’s a phenomenon that has now been given a name: Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

“If you are driving a child that is in the back seat always leave something you need in the back of the car such as a purse or a cell phone so you won’t forget and leave the child in the car,” said Betty Wade Coyle, executive director emeritus of Champions for Children: Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads. “It only takes a few minutes in a hot car to kill a small child.”

Corinne Purtill, a writer for the online news website Quartz, perhaps said it best when she wrote that while it’s tempting to believe that only “a negligent parent” could make such a huge mistake, the truth is that the “deadly lapse is triggered by a neurological quirk that can and does happen to anyone.”

It happens regardless of gender, age, intelligence, or any other demographic marker.

“If you have a brain, a routine, and stress, you are capable of forgetting a child in the car,” Purtill wrote, citing two psychology professors, including David Diamond at the University of South Florida, who originated the term Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

Her story points out that the deaths started becoming more common in the 1990s, after safety experts recommended that babies be put in the back seat and not in the front.

Babies are certainly safer in the back, so what can a parent do to ensure that the inevitable daily stress and drama won’t interfere with their ability to remember their baby, who might be sleeping or otherwise very quiet in the back seat?

Coyle suggests the following:

  • Put something important in the back seat with your child. For women it might be a hand-bag. For men it might be a brief case. For anyone it could be a cell phone, which you shouldn’t be using while driving anyway.
  • Set alarm on your cell phone. If you usually drop your child off at childcare around, say, 8 a.m., set an alarm for 8 a.m. It can serve as a daily reminder that you should be doing something very important at that time.
  • See if your childcare provider is able to call you if your child hasn’t been dropped off on the usual day at the usual time.

Technology is helping, as some new car seats are being made with alarms that chime when you shut off your car. Last year a Senate Bill (No. 1666 – or the “Hot Cars Act,”) directed the Secretary of Transportation to issue a rule that would require all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system.

The Code of Virginia also contains a “good samaritan” clause of sorts. It’s in Section 8.01-225 (A, 1), which deals with persons rendering emergency care.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

Related Articles