Mother Whose Son Died In A Hot Car Advocates For Better Vehicle Safety Technology

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At least 35 children in the U.S. have died after being left in hot cars in 2019. (Ruby Roubaix/Flickr)
At least 35 children in the U.S. have died after being left in hot cars in 2019. (Ruby Roubaix/Flickr)

At least 35 children in the U.S. have died this year after being left in hot cars, according to the nonprofit Kids and Cars.

Stephanie Salvilla knows all too well about the loss of a child in this way. Her 5-month-old son, Gannon, died after being left in her car in 2009.

She shared her story with Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd.

Interview Highlights

On how something like this can happen to a parent and how it happened to her

"It's a change in routine and that's how most of these tragedies happen. It's a simple change in routine with the parent in the mornings with the drop off. In my case, usually I was home to get everyone ready in the mornings ... and I had a routine. I put the [baby] bottles in the front seat and put my put my purse in the backseat. And the day that my son died, there was a change in routine and my husband was home ... and my husband wanted to put the kids in the car so he put the kids in the car and the bottles were accidentally placed in the backseat and my purse was placed in the front seat. When I was driving down the road ... my brain went on autopilot and after I dropped off my daughter, my son and I got back in the car and my brain went on autopilot and I ended up at work like I had done before Gannon was born ... and when I went through my list in my memory bank of what I had done, I could clearly see myself dropping off my daughter and I could clearly see myself dropping my son off. Even 'til this day the two memories are indistinguishable except for the fact that one happened and one did not. My brain had inserted a false memory."

On how she came to terms with her loss

"I don't think parents like me ever really come to terms with it. We just learned to deal with the pain and the grief that it happened to us, that it happened to our child. We do our best to make it up to our families or to other families ... explain to other people what had happened and how easily it could happen to anybody ... it happens to lots of great parents."

On when criminal charges are appropriate

"Criminal charges would be appropriate when the parent knowingly left their child in their car, not for the parents who unknowingly left. These parents had no idea what had happened. You know, like I said, these parents are good parents who are trying to go to work and it's a scientific phenomenon that happens when our brain goes on autopilot and our brains input a previous routine and the new routine of dropping a new child off or a second child off where it's supposed to go is missed.

On efforts to require alarm technology in cars to prevent future tragedies

"It's a wonderful idea. These tragedies were almost nonexistent prior to the 1990s, when a lot of parents drove with their infants in the front seat. But when the government required the children to be placed in the back seat, there were no safeguards implemented to help parents remember that their child is in the backseat. But to me, if we could install a weight sensor and alarm in the front passenger seat where it is always an adult, to remind the adult to put their seat belt on, then we should be able to wire the back seat to remind parents the infant seat is weighed down with their child."

This article was originally published on August 22, 2019.

This segment aired on August 22, 2019.


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