Local psychologists say there's a medical explanation for why parents forget kids in cars

LINCOLN, Neb. - Just two days after a 1-year-old boy died in a hot car in Columbus, today, in Knoxville, TN, another child was found dead in the backseat of a car.

Experts say there's a medical explanation for why loving parents can forget their children in hot cars. (Source: KOLN)

That marks the 31st child that has died this year in a hot car. Many want to point the finger at negligent parents, but experts with Bryan Health's Mental Health Services are trying to put an end to that narrative.

"In most cases, it's a brain malfunction that's happening," says Dr. Dave Miers.

"We get in that autopilot mode and we're used to going through our daily routine," Miers said. "And a small change of routine is enough to mess with our brain."

Whether that be oversleeping, taking a different way home, or having a child on a day you wouldn't normally have your kids with you, these small changes of routine can cause a momentary lapse in memory.

"The cognitive and motor part of our brain are competing against each other," Miers said. "That motor part deals with routine, and the cognitive part is thinking about what's ahead, what happens next. The motor part of our brain overpowers the other part of the brain."

But in this world of technology, experts say our cars could help us overpower that powerful part of our brain.

"Auto makers know we're human," said KidsAndCars.org President and Founder, Janette Fennel. "We have so many reminders in our cars right now, like put on your seat belt, make sure the keys in the ignition, the door is ajar, the list goes on and on."

Most notably, Fennel says, is that cars make noise when you forget to turn off your headlights, or the car does it for you.

"Heaven forbid we have a dead battery," Fennel said. "But really, who decided it's more important not to have a dead battery than a dead child?"

Fennel is working to create legislation that would make rear seat reminder technology required for all cars on the market.

"We've looked and it would only cost between $5 and $25 to add it," Fennel said.

Several cars on the market do have rear seat reminders, but it isn't required. But, Fennel says, it should be, as last year, 53 children died in hot cars.

"Last year was the highest year for education and awareness, but it was also the highest number of hot car deaths," Fennel said. "It's just proving that education and awareness is not enough. We need that, but we need that along with technology."

If you do not have a car with rear seat reminders, experts say there are things you can do to trick your brain into remembering to check the back seat.

Experts recommend leaving something like a phone or computer in the back seat that you will need when you get out of the car.

There are also phone apps that can set reminders to check the backseat when you arrive at your destination.

"It's not bad parents that forget their children, it's distracted parents," Fennel said.

"It can really and truly happen to everyone, and we need people to understand it's not monsters who do this," Miers said. "It's very loving parents who just had a momentary lapse or just got out of their routine."