,Reduced cognitive capacity induced by stress or a lack of sleep could inadvertently lead to the fatal situation where a parent or guardian accidentally leaves a child in a locked vehicle.Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) chief research officer A Azad Abdul Rashid said the tragic phenomenon is commonly referred to as the "forgotten baby syndrome"."Not exclusive to Malaysia, the heartbreaking tragedy captures the public’s attention with mixed feelings of sympathy and disbelief, how could a mother forget about her child?"Forgetfulness is normal, it is not necessarily a sign of a cognitive catastrophe," Azad told Malaysiakini."Studies show that forgetfulness is linked closely to how the brain works, the working memory. Working memory is a mechanism in the brain to hold information temporarily and it has limited capacity," he explained.When faced with a long to-do list, Azad said the brain could fail to assess the importance of an item, leading to forgetfulness.Additionally, he said a change of routine could also be a contributing factor with the regularity of actions helping to prevent forgetfulness."A sudden change in routine lacks the cue that makes the brain aware or remembers the new or additional to-do things."In the case of a forgotten child in the car, most of the victim's parents (or the drivers) were on schedules different from their normal days resulting in them inadvertently not realising the child's presence," he said.Former Road Transport Department (RTD) automotive engineer Mohamad Dalib said parents who intended to leave their young child in an unattended vehicle with a running engine and air-conditioning should not do so for more than 30 minutes.Former Road Transport Department (RTD) automotive engineer Mohamad DalibBeyond 30 minutes, Mohamad said, keeping a window open by just one or two inches to promote ventilation could prevent incidents of deaths, not only of young children but also of adults.When contacted, Mohamad said the risk of death is higher in vehicles older than three years, particularly those that did not go through scheduled maintenance, resulting in potential leakage of fumes from the engine compartment into the cabin compartment."So now we are talking about a child's death, how could it happen? Take a car running for more than 90 minutes [...] a lot of gasses have been created, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxide."Once the gasses enter the vehicle cabin and the air-con is functioning, if the owner has closed all the windows, there will be no external ventilation," said Mohamad."In just a few minutes, the cabin's internal pressure will rise above external pressure."So if there is a baby in the vehicle or even an adult who is unable to open the door or window, their breathing will become slow due to the presence of nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxides and other gasses," he explained."Slower breathing will cause cabin pressure to hit them harder, straight to the chest resulting in shortness of breath," added Mohamad who retired from the RTD after 40 years and is now a regular guest on several local radio stations to talk about vehicle safety.Prevention above prosecutionGiven the circumstances, he said the risk would be significantly lower in cars parked after having only travelled a short trip, for example to a nearby grocery store less than 5km from home.Mohamad said the advice to promote external ventilation also applies to drivers taking a nap in their cars."Especially those driving older cars. Newer models of less than three years will not have this issue (of leaking fumes) because the seals are still in their place," he said.Academician Prof Kulanthayan KC Mani said while there are provisions under the Child Act 2001 to act against a parent or guardian for neglect, in such cases, the focus should be given on prevention above prosecution.Academician Prof Kulanthayan KC ManiAside from the dangers of leaving children in cars with the air-conditioning turned on, Kulanthayan also noted the danger of heatstroke that has led to reported deaths of children inside cars without air-conditioning."If I have an adult and a child in the car, the child's temperature will rise three to four times faster than the adult's. That is why a child is more at risk if left alone in the car," he told Malaysiakini."If outside the car the temperature is 34 degrees Celcius, inside the car the temperature can rise to 52 degrees within 20 minutes."That's a very short time and 20 minutes is the time when it (heatstroke) commonly happens because sometimes you may leave a child to go buy groceries or run errands," said Kulanthayan, the executive director of Universiti Putra Malaysia's Safe Kids Programme, an injury prevention initiative under its Faculty of Medicine.Trapped in high heat, Kulanthayan said a child's internal organs begin to shut down at 40 degrees and 52 degrees would place them in a life-threatening position.As a method of prevention, he said multi-tasking parents could schedule personal reminders when transporting their child or place an important item next to them in the car, for example, a laptop."Sometimes something else happens that makes them forget about their child in the car. So preferably, do not leave your child in the car," he said.He said the public could also play a prevention role, for example, by peering into parked cars or confirming the location of a child with a parent tasked to drop them off at school or at daycare.Last Wednesday, Kuala Muda police chief Assistant Commissioner Adzli Abu Shah confirmed the death of a three-year-old boy after being locked in a car for more than four hours in an incident in Taman Ria, Kedah.The victim was believed to have been trapped in the car from 8am to 12.15pm.
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