Hot Car Deaths – Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Parked car on hot day depicting hot car deaths

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: accidentally causing the death of your own child.

That is what Justin Ross Harris claimed tragically happened. He had forgotten his 22-month-old son, Cooper, was in the back of his car all day in the Atlanta heat on June 18, 2014.

The state of Georgia disagreed with Harris. He was charged with what’s called Malice Murder. In addition, he was charged with criminal negligence and a host of other charges related to Cooper’s death.

In 2016, Ross Harris was convicted of all counts against him. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

What is Malice Murder?

Malice murder, as defined by USLegal, refers to murders committed,

  • With the specific intent to kill, or
  • With specific intent to cause serious bodily harm
  • It can be a premeditated murder or murder committed with gross recklessness and depraved indifference for human life.

The Justin Ross Harris Case

What makes the Justin Ross Harris case sensational is not just the fact that a little boy died in such a horrific way.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution podcast “Breakdown” which followed every detail of this case as it was happening, when the story broke in the news, the reaction of the public was mixed.

Most people saw this as a terrible tragedy. It’s a tragedy that happened to 43 children in 2017, according to the National Safety Council.

Not all tragic hot car deaths are reported to such an extent as the Justin Ross Harris case. What made his case so sensational is that the state of Georgia decided to make a criminal murder case against Harris based on what they found on his electronic devices.

That information turned the tide of public opinion violently against Harris. Public opinion was so intense that the judge decided to move the trial to a different county.

Let’s take a closer look at the realities of hot car deaths and implications for all parents and caregivers in Michigan.

The Reality of Hot Car Deaths

One theme of the “Breakdown” podcast seems to be this: what kind of parent would intentionally leave his son to die such a brutal death?

We have all been in an uncomfortably hot and claustrophobic situation. In addition, we can imagine the kind of pain and suffering which would accompany a death like this. It’s hard to believe that Harris could have done it on purpose.

However, that is what the state of Georgia has pronounced.

The next question which haunts any good parent who hears this story is this: do good parents ever forget their kids in the car? Could this happen to me?

And the answer appears to be yes. In fact, if you listen to research done by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, most of the hot car deaths in this country happen to good parents. Almost everyone assumes they wouldn’t forget their kids in the car. This assumption could prove to be deadly to your child.

According to researchers, it’s not a fault in your parenting to forget your child. It’s simply the way the brain works. Our brains are designed to go on autopilot to accomplish our everyday tasks.

If you’ve ever driven somewhere without really remembering how you got there, you’ve experienced what happens when good parents forget their kids in the back of their cars.

What Michigan Law Says About Leaving Children in Cars

It might seem like a hassle to take your kids inside with you to every small errand you have. However, this is one way the state of Michigan is actually on your side.

If you are ever tempted to leave your kids in the car by themselves intentionally, just keep in mind the potential fines and jail time that could result and don’t do it.

The issue of unintentionally leaving your kids in the car has to be addressed differently. Prevention methods are best. According to the brain experts, you need to build something into your routine that will prevent you from forgetting.

It could be as simple as checking your backseat every single time you lock your car doors. It could be a teddy bear that you place in your front seat when you put your toddler in his car seat to remind you that he’s there.

Use your brain’s tendency to go on autopilot to your advantage by building in safety checks around cars. Also, lock your car when it’s sitting in your garage or driveway and make sure your kids know to never, ever play in the car.


The horrible tragedy of hot car deaths is a nightmare.

If you are facing criminal charges related to leaving your child in the car, you will need an experienced defense attorney. Reach out today.

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