If YOU’RE road tripping in the US this summer, you may notice a strange phenomenon: the half-shod driver. For parents there are being urged to drive with one bare foot in a bid to promote child safety – meaning that petrol stations and convenience stores throughout the country will soon be awash with deranged-looking mums and dads getting out of the car with one stockinged foot.
No, it is not April Fool’s Day.
Safety campaigners across the Atlantic are actually recommending that parents, when driving the car with their offspring in the back, take off their left shoe and place it beside the baby on the seat.
Why? Because apparently, so one safety expert claimed in an online article, driving with one bare foot makes it less likely that you’ll head off to work – or the shops, or wherever it is that you’re planning to spend the day – without remembering to get your child out of the car.
You’re not, she explained, going to forget your shoe, are you? So therefore you’ll probably notice your child in its car seat when you go to pick it up and, hopefully, remember to take it with you.
The suggestion came in the wake of a spate of tragic baby deaths on the other side of the Atlantic. Parents had left their child strapped in the car alone for lengthy periods of time – many of them accidentally, apparently – and in the blazing heat, the youngsters had sadly passed away.
According to a survey on the SafeKids.org website in the US, nearly one in four parents of a child under three has forgotten the child in a car on at least one occasion. That’s a lot of people.
I understand that sleep deprivation can do some funny things to you. As the owner of a toddler who still wakes me up at least once a night and who has a history of being the worst kind of sleep terrorist possible, I absolutely understand.
But how many people actually, really forget their baby is there? Mine wouldn’t let me. Even as a newborn, she made it quite clear that she was present, emitting a blood-curdling wail the second the car stopped. I have to admit, I’ve occasionally done the opposite – forgotten that she actually WASN’T, for once, in the car and diligently continued to sing her favourite songs when I could have been listening to Wilco or Midlake – or Desert Island Discs: “He’s the Gruffalo. GRUFFALO! GRUFFALO!”
Annoying for me, perhaps, but, thankfully, not dangerous.
The article went on to discuss how, previous safety warnings had suggested placing your handbag or wallet beside the child. But, as the author pointed out, you COULD leave the car without needing to bring your credit card, or lip gloss (or baby). But you’re definitely not going to go off without your shoe!
A higher number of people admitted to leaving their child in a car intentionally – to nip into a shop, or pay for petrol. That’s always a tricky one. You need petrol, but you have a sleeping baby in the backseat. Do you lock the car and run in for two minutes? I’ve never been able to bring myself to, but logically, I suppose there’s no good reason why not.
In some US states, however, it is actually illegal. My friend recently told me about someone she knows who was fined $500 – about £250 – for doing just that.
There’s a big difference, however, between making a calculated risk of leaving a child in a locked car for less than five minutes within sight and innocently going off to work for the day – this has actually happened to multiple people in the US, according to newspaper reports – and returning seven or eight hours later to find a child dead in the back seat.
This is obviously horrifically tragic but is thankfully rare.
I would hesitate to suggest that if you’re sufficiently sleep deprived, stressed or post- natally depressed there is a risk that you might forget your child, then maybe avoiding situations where this could occur would be the best bet. And if it saves the life of even one baby, then it is perhaps worth it.
However, suggesting that all parents wear only one shoe just seems to be a bizarre way to prevent against doing something which to most people should really be fairly obvious.