Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that researcher Aditya Belwadi believed technological solutions could reduce the heat stroke fatality rate to zero. He believes technological solutions could reduce the fatality rate further, but not to zero.
On a hot Sunday in July, a father in Mississippi tried to coax his 3-year-old daughter into learning how to release the buckle on her car seat.
The preschooler couldn't figure it out. So he tried to get her to learn how to open the back door on her own. That didn't work either.
"She just couldn't do it, which is terrifying to me," said Lawrence Patihis, a memory researcher at the University of Southern Mississippi. Patihis had become concerned about his daughter after hearing news of the spike in heat-stroke deaths in children left behind or trapped in cars.
Safety experts are pushing regulators and the auto industry to come up with technological solutions to help solve the problem of pediatric heatstroke in cars. But it has been hard to get momentum on the issue in large part because the public blames parents for being irresponsible rather than seeing the issue as one that could affect anyone.
But as an academic who has studied the way memory works, Patihis said he knows he's just as likely as anyone else to forget his daughter in the car.
"People are much more confident about how accurate their memory is compared to how accurate it actually is," Patihis said. "In this case, I think people might overestimate how their enormous instinct to protect their child would overcome memory lapses."
As of Friday, Aug. 5, 26 children have died from overheating in cars this year, including a set of twins in Georgia on Thursday. That surpasses the number of deaths for all of 2015, which hit 25. Not all children are forgotten -- some children climb into vehicles to play or retrieve a favorite toy. And others are left by their caregivers on purpose; people who are unaware or disregard how dangerous hot car interiors can be for small bodies.