‘I didn’t know he was with me:’ Nonprofit director shares her story + tips to prevent hot car deaths

KENNEWICK, Wash. — “It just hit me like a brick wall, ‘oh my God this can actually happen, to me,'” Amber Rollins recalled.

Rollins is the Director of Kids and Car Safety— a nonprofit that works to educate parents before tragedy strikes. Her passion for this field is rooted in the time she nearly made a fatal mistake.

“At that point, I had lost awareness that my son who was three months old, sleeping in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat,” Rollins said. “I didn’t know he was with me.”

She said it can happen to even the most attentive parent or caregiver.

“Your car becomes an oven in a matter of minutes,” Rollins said.

Kids and Car Safety focuses on a range of subjects related to vehicle safety including children getting locked in cars, back-over incidents, issues with power windows and carbon monoxide exposure. The group has drawn information from studies that show an unexpected factor contributing to these incidents.

“Sleep deprivation severely affects the way that our memory systems function in our brain and it causes us to go into what we call autopilot,” Rollins said. “The problem with autopilot mode is it literally cannot account for a change in routine.”

Changes in a regular routine can throw a parent or caretaker off, Rollins explained. Luckily, hot car deaths are trending downward.

In 2018, 54 children in the US died in hot car incidents. In 2022, there have been just 12.

“There’s been a direct correlation between the decrease in hot car deaths and the pandemic,” Rollins said.

But even one child left in a hot car is one too many.

Rollins shared some essential tips for parents and care providers:

“Create a visual reminder in the front seat any time your child is with you. Put something that you need to start your day in the backseat or the floor. Ask your daycare provider or anyone who watches your child to call you immediately if your child doesn’t show up as scheduled.”

Outside of the aforementioned emergencies, Rollins wants parents to be aware of another unexpected scenario.

“There’s also a fourth of hot car deaths that happens when a child wanders outside into the car and can’t get out,” Rollins said.

She urges parents to keep cars locked at all times, store keys out of reach and install door alarms to alert them if their child gets outside. She also encouraged parents to be mindful of how hot surfaces like seat buckles can get, as well as cars without vents in the back.

In case your child is ever left in a hot car, the CDC said to look for these signs of heat exhaustion or stroke, and take these measures to cool them off. When in doubt, seek medical care immediately.

Washington State has laws against leaving a child under 16 in a car alone, punishable by law.

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