When Hannah Rhudy heard the news last summer—that 5-month-old twins died after their father unknowingly left them in their vehicle, right outside their apartment building—she was so upset that something so awful could happen in her hometown, she had to do something about it.

“It really bothered me personally,” said the 14-year-old, who lives in Chesterfield County, south of Richmond, with her parents and two sisters. “I’ve always loved kids and babysitting and teaching them at my church has really been a big part of me growing up.”

Since 1990, more than 900 children have died nationwide of vehicular heatstroke after their parents or caregivers went to work, or walked inside their homes, and left them in the back seat. A record number of 52 children—three from Virginia—died in 2018 and there have been 18 deaths so far this year, according to Kids and Cars, a national group that focuses on ways to prevent child deaths in and around vehicles.

Experts call it “forgotten baby syndrome” and say it’s a problem with memory, not negligence. When a parent is tired, stressed or distracted—and who isn’t these days?—the part of the brain that works on auto-pilot takes over, suppressing the part of the brain that allows for changes in routine, like dropping off a child at day care when the other parent can’t do it.

Deaths occur throughout the year but increase in the summer, not just because of the heat, but also from changes in family habits because of vacations. Many times, when a child died in a car, there had been a change in the family’s daily routine, said David Diamond, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida who’s studied the syndrome.

No matter the explanation, Hannah was upset that no one had come up with ways to prevent more deaths. One day, as she thought about the baby brother and sister who died in their SUV, she spotted a handicapped tag inside a car.

“I thought that was a great way to get the message across,” she said.

She developed BabyIn BabyOut, a two-sided tag to hang from a vehicle’s rear-view mirror. The BabyIn side is hot pink and features a simple drawing of a frowning round face. It reminds parents that in 10 minutes, the vehicle can heat up enough to kill a child, left alone inside.

The BabyOut side is neon green, has a happy face and the reminder to “always look before you lock.”

Drivers are encouraged to keep the BabyIn side facing them, when the child is in the car, and flip it when they take the baby out.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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