Look Before You Lock
Parents and carers are the focus of a new Victorian Government campaign that raises awareness of the dangers of children being accidently left in cars due to short-term memory failure.
The ‘Look Before You Lock’ campaign talks about how extreme exhaustion, stress or a change in routine can bring about the condition, known as fatal distraction.
The campaign encourages parents and carers to develop new habits to minimise the risk, such as leaving your handbag, phone or wallet on the backseat and creating a mental list of the things to check each time they leave the car.
Short-term memory is used to store temporary information, like reminding ourselves to pick up milk on the way home. When people become tired, stressed, distracted, or there is a break in routine, short term memory can fail and cause habitual memory to take over. Parents or carers manage many competing demands every day, and short-term memory can become vulnerable when under pressure.
According to research, our short-term memory can only hold five to nine things at one time, and if this memory is overloaded by new tasks or distractions from routine, it may mean that some items begin to be forgotten regardless of their importance. No one is immune from this type of memory failure.
For example, an exhausted parent may drive straight to work along their normal route rather than stopping to drop a child off at childcare, inadvertently leaving the child in the car when they arrive. While this is a parent’s worst nightmare, it is possible and has happened before. The parents are performing a routine task that involves little conscious thought—almost like being on ‘autopilot’—and may not remember that they have forgotten something.
Accidentally leaving a child in a car is sometimes known as fatal distraction, and it can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, the consequences have the potential to be devastating.
In recent times, there have been incidents in Australia and around the world where parents or carers, believing a child to be elsewhere and safe, have unknowingly left a child in a car with tragic outcomes.
Create a safer routine
There are some steps that people can work into daily routines to help lower the risk of inadvertently leaving a child in a car:
- Open the back door of the car every time you park, even if there is no one in the back seat
- Place a child’s bag or cuddly toy in the front seat as a reminder
- Leave a bag, phone or wallet in the back seat of the car
- Use a mirror for rear facing car seats
- Create a mental list of things to check each time you leave the car, for example, ‘baby, keys, wallet and phone’.