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Who Leaves a Sleeping Baby Alone in a Car?

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ABC's "Primetime" investigates.

Imagine walking down a busy street and suddenly hearing a cry coming from a parked car. When you look closer, you spot a baby in the backseat and notice that all of the windows are closed. It's a hot summer day, and the parents are nowhere to be found. What would you do?

Tragically, almost 40 children die every year after being left alone in hot cars. Thankfully, many more kids are saved when strangers come to their rescue. ABC's "Primetime: What Would You Do?" wanted to see what ordinary people would do if they saw a baby in the backseat of a parked car on a hot summer day.

For the experiment, ABC parked a car on a busy suburban street for two days. Inside, they left a doll called a "reborn," which is a doll that looks almost exactly like a newborn infant. The doll's battery-operated breathing mechanism made the scene all the more convincing.

With the help of a dozen surveillance cameras, show producers monitored the action from a nearby building. Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Cars (a group that promotes car safety for children), also offered commentary as the events unfolded.

After two days of filming, they learned that while many people were simply too busy or distracted to notice a sleeping baby, many others simply didn't know what to do once they spotted our child. Many of those who did act said that they had seen news reports and knew about the dangers of leaving children in locked cars.

Those who came to the rescue and called the police did what one should do in the situation, said Fennell. She hopes that our experiment will "empower people to understand, that when you see a child in distress you don't walk the other way. You get involved and you do whatever it takes to make sure that the child is safe."

Tune in to ABC Tuesday night to watch "Primetime: What Would You Do?" 

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11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Gigohead  February 2, 2009, 3:21 PM

I called the police who left a baby in a car in the cold when she and her young preteen daughter went to Home Deport in Middletown, NY. I had a store personnel dial 911. The woman made a quick getaway but we caught her license plates. She did get booked and I called to testify. She said in a haste that she didn’t want to distrub the baby as she slept and only went in for minute. I think she learned that most folks are paying attention now. Not sure if she would do that again.

Anonymous February 2, 2009, 4:43 PM

I don’t buy this experiment. Was it really a hot day. Was the car parked in front of a place where you usually quikly run in a pick up things and run out. Maybe the parent doesn’t want to wake the baby.

Anonymous February 2, 2009, 5:17 PM

I’d wait for a minute, and if no one comes around, I would call 911. I can’t imagine leaving young children alone in a car, period.

me February 2, 2009, 5:19 PM

i went to pick up my daughter from mothers day out one day and pulled up in the no parking zone was a suburban, that already had me ranting. anyway as i walk by to go in i hear a baby crying, i looked and sure enough this is a tiny baby crying out (the windows were open about an inch or so) and i was shocked. i knew the mom had to have run inside to grab her other kid and didn’t want to wake the baby but i was upset by this. most parents know for starts that it’s crazy to do this, second all babies will wake up within a minute of stopping the car. i didn’t know what to do since i knew they would be right out. i did stand by the car and make sure the baby wasn’t snatched or anything, not to mention i was afraid to leave the car to go searching. then the lady came out and it was a grandmother!! i know that was probably perfectly acceptable back in the day but come on grandma this isn’t the 50’s. i felt physically sick thinking about that baby in there.

JP February 2, 2009, 5:53 PM

I would call 911, send someone inside to get me a worker/security, and break the window so if the parent tried to claim you tried to kidnap, you have a witness of 911 telling you to break the window, or wait.

Spookygirl February 2, 2009, 7:38 PM

I don’t call 911, I have the non-emergency number for the local police in my phone and call them. I have been known to sit in my van near a car where a child is if they are not in immediate danger, and wait to see who gets there first parent or police. That way the child is not all alone, but not going so far as to break someones window, KWIM?

La February 2, 2009, 8:10 PM

If I walked by a car and saw a baby alone, I would not hesitate a bit. I would first start screaming frantically for help! dial 911, get a guy to break the window of the car and make sure the baby is safe. When It comes to a child there is no way people should take in consideration anybody elses feelings or reasons of why they left that child alone in the car. I prefer to wake my child up and disturb her sleep than have to go to her funeral.

Anonymous February 3, 2009, 11:38 AM

“”I would not hesitate a bit. I would first start screaming frantically for help! dial 911, get a guy to break the window of the car.”“” WOW

travesty of justice February 3, 2009, 4:17 PM

The experiment is detestable, but I think that it’s even worse that people waited around merely to yell at the mother. Who are these awful people who get their only joy from condemning a mother who probably already feels terrible. Most of these cases are not cases where the mother has intentionally left the child out. Mothers sometimes are so stressed that they can space out for a little while. I feel sorry for these mothers, not angry.

See the child, make sure he can live for another minute. Check the doors. Check the store. Yell for help. Call the police, and with their approval break the windows. The emergency is rarely so dire that you can’t spare a couple minutes to yell for help and call the cops.

Lainey-Paney February 7, 2009, 9:21 PM

Anonymous:”maybe she didn’t want to wake the baby.”…. that’s no excuse.

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