Friday, February 28, 2020 -
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Preventing a fatal distraction

It’s summer, and it’s scorching hot outside. This is my third time deciding to dedicate my column to this horrendously painful modern death called hyperthermia, specifically, losing a child to it in a locked, heated car.

I’ve encouraged you in the past and I will do so again: read Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer winning article, “Fatal Distraction.” This gut wrenching and brilliant piece truly is a must-read.

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

As Weingarten illustrates, there is no character profile or pattern of who has made this fatal mistake. It’s happened to the wealthy, the poor, the educated and the uneducated.

It is a memory flaw, a momentary lapse, a split second of inattentiveness, and this devastating death is set in motion.

Prior to the laws pertaining to car seats, children were seen and heard in a back seat. They would wobble around, make their presence known. With new car seat laws in place to prevent mortality in case of a car accident, the silence of a toddler tucked away in a car seat in the back of a car can sometimes cause the child’s presence to be forgotten.

With the hectic pace of today’s modern life; the multi-tasking, the closing of deals with a phone within constant reach, the constant expectation of being plugged in so as to meet an expected response time — just the overall pressure cooker of it all — can create a level of stress that causes an otherwise loving and wonderful parent to hurt their most precious possession of all.

All it takes is a change in routine or schedule, an upcoming stressful day at work, or simple confusion, and an honest yet devastating mistake is made.

We no longer live in times where Mamas carry their young on their backs. There isn’t constant contact between parent and child. Children are driven to and fro, dropped off and picked up.

But the stress of today’s culture sometimes proves to be too much.

Forgetting a child behind is simply a symptom of the problem: overloaded living.

We all need to streamline: next time someone asks you to do X and you feel it’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.

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

Oftentimes, society’s response to parents who have fallen prey to this human error is quite harsh. 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 the sense of most people that “this can never happen to me.”

Because this kind of death can also happen because of abusive or intentionally neglectful parents, the hard working, caring, good parents who invest their life in their kids emotionally distance themselves from this kind of death. They are certain, “I would never do this,” or “this can never happen to me.” Initially, the assumption was that a parent forgetting a child in a locked car was due to the examples mentioned above, such as an unexpected change of schedule etc. Therefore, technological efforts were made to create safety measures that would prevent such a scenario.

However, very few people take active protective measures to prevent this tragedy. “It can never happen to me.”

And this is how one summer passes into another, with the terrible news of this incomprehensible death hitting yet again.

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?”

Please read up on this. The best preventative technology that’s been brought to my attention so far is found at I don’t know if it’s available outside of the US or not, but Israeli readers, please make use of it! As for America, perhaps one of my readers can take this project on and expand this company’s services to the US, or find a way to simulate it.

It can literally be the difference between life and death.

There are many other suggestions out there.

One idea I’ve heard is, regardless of whether little ones are with you or not, get into the habit of always keeping your purse in the back seat, so reaching toward the back seat and keeping it in your line of vision prior to exiting your vehicle becomes reflex.

We always need to allow for the possibility of human error, human flaw.

Even then, this tragedy can still happen. Nothing is foolproof.

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.

And don’t forget to read “Fatal Distraction.”

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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