view from central park

Fatal distraction


It’s summer, and it’s been scorching hot outside. This is the third time I’m devoting my column to hyperthermia — specifically, losing a child to it in a locked car.

This terrible outcome can, G-d forbid, happen to anyone. Last week, another forgotten baby, this time in Israel, suffocated to death in a boiling hot car.

As Gene Weingarten illustrates, in his gut-wrenching Pulitzer-winning article Fatal Distraction, this has happened to the wealthy, the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the result of a memory flaw, a momentary lapse, a split second of inattentiveness.

Prior to car seat laws, children were seen and heard in a back seat. They would wobble around, make their presence known. Now, the silence of a toddler tucked away in the back of a car can sometimes cause the child’s presence to be forgotten. All it takes is a change in routine or schedule, an especially stressful day at work, or simple confusion, and an honest but devastating mistake is made.

We no longer live in times where mothers carry their babies on their backs. There is less constant contact between parent and child. Children are driven to and fro, dropped off and picked up. Forgetting a child behind is simply a symptom of the problem: overloaded living.

We all need to streamline. The next time someone asks you to do something that’s just too much, it’s OK to say no, regardless of the chafing that might follow. Next time you reach for the phone while in the car, put it down. Create new boundaries. Breathe.

Just as you sometimes forget your bag of peaches in the grocery, you might forget, G-d forbid, your child in the car.

Oftentimes, society has a harsh response to parents who fall prey to this human error. They are judged as neglectful, crazy, or even hateful. But the truth is, it can happen to anyone. And therein lies the crucial message.

Research has shown that one of the central causes of this kind of tragic death is that most people believe “This can never happen to me.” Ultimately, it comes down to changing our approach, from “It can never happen to me” to “What changes can I put in place to prevent it?”

The best preventative technology that has been brought to my attention so far is I don’t know if it’s available in the U.S. or not, but Israelis should make use of it! As for Americans, perhaps one of my readers can take this project on and expand this company’s services in the U.S. It could literally mean the difference between life and death.

There are many other suggestions out there. One idea I’ve heard is to get into the habit of keeping a purse or a cell phone in the back seat, regardless of whether little ones are with you or not, so that looking backwards prior to exiting your vehicle becomes a reflex.

Even then, this tragedy can still happen. Nothing is foolproof. We always need to allow for the possibility of human error, human flaw.

But slowing down is always a good idea. Because it can, G-d forbid, happen to me.

Let’s all slow down a bit, and hope for a safe summer for all.