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    Friday
    Aug102007

    Tragic Kiddie Roasters

    Here's the transcript to a speech I delivered to my Toastmasters Club on Wednesday night:toastmasters.jpg

    Last week, the Hartford Courant published an article entitled “Kids Fatally Forgotten—Punishing the Parents”. The subject? Helpless toddlers and children who die after being locked in sweltering automobiles during the hot summer months.

    When we hear about such tragedies we generally shake our heads in disgust. How could anyone be so uncaring as to lock their child in a hot car? It’s unfathomable. But as we are often quick to jump to judgment and point accusing fingers at these awful parents, we should be aware of certain misconceptions we may have about the problem.

    1st Misconception: These cases are terrible, but they’re few and far between.

    At one time, this might’ve been a true statement. In the early 90’s, about 10 kids per year died in this fashion. Today that number is more than 3X greater and climbing. The problem? Many states have mandated that infants be placed in car seats in the back seat, facing rearward. In today’s hectic day and age, it’s easier to forget them.

    2nd Misconception: People who do that to their kids are monsters.

    It’s easy to blame the drug addict or the alcoholic when their kids die due to their vices. But what about the industrious soccer mom or the devoted daddy day care? When Kevin Kelly of Virginia lost his baby girl Frances to hyperthermia, she had been locked in a hot car for 8 hours and probably dead for four before she was discovered.

    But Kelly had his hands full watching 12 other children while his wife and daughter were visiting a relative with cancer overseas. He was shuttling kids between exams & soccer, made lunch, did laundry, dealt with a plumber, an air conditioning repairman, and he fixed a hole in his fence so the kids couldn’t escape from his yard. Hardly the day in the life of a monster. The truth is, only about 7% of these cases are attributed to drugs or alcohol.

    3rd Misconception: The kids would be fine if the parents cracked a window open.

    Temperature in a car can rise 40 degrees in an hour, and a slight gap in the window does little to no good. Problems can arise even on days of moderate temperature. Also, the heat stress on the underdeveloped respiratory system of an infant or toddler is much more significant than a full-grown adult. Do an experiment. On the next hot day when you come home from work, shut off the car and just sit in it with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner off and see how long it takes to become unbearable. Then roll the window down an inch and see if it helps.

    4th Misconception: It could never happen to my kids. I could never forget them.

    Maybe not. But scientists warn that’s the kind of attitude that is often at the root of the problem. When we become stressed, certain parts of our brains dominate our thoughts, and other parts of our brains—the parts that might tell us that our children tucked away in the back seat might be in danger—are pushed to the background. That might be a good explanation for what happened to Kevin Kelly.

    5th Misconception: Accidents happen, and there’s not much we can do about it.

    That all depends on how much we want to do about it. We can keep things the way they are, blaming grieving parents and putting them in jail or on probation, but that won’t stop the next inattentive, overstressed parent from suffering a tragedy. Or we can resolve to do much more.

    With today’s technology we have satellites that can pinpoint the location of the UPS guy to the nearest street corner. We have Blackberries and cellphones that send us text messages when our favorite baseball team scores a run. We have devices on our windshields that communicate with toll booths and deduct the money out of our checking accounts. We certainly have the technology to monitor the temperature within our vehicles and send an alert or an alarm when a danger is present.

    I wrote an editorial to the Courant in response to their article proposing just that, and the paper published it in last Thursday’s Op-Ed section. A man by the name Joel Gordes sent an email to me about a paper he had written a while back. He proclaimed that a Photovoltaic cell, otherwise known as a solar cell, could be imbedded into the skin of an automobile to generate enough voltage to power a ventilation fan even when the car is off.

    Not only could it prevent these tragic deaths, it could help save the expensive upholstery and provide a trickle voltage to car batteries and reduce the instances of dead batteries. I think it’s a wonderful idea, if we can somehow get an auto manufacturer to try it. I don’t know how to go about doing that, but I’m going to give it a try. If it someday saves the life of one child from a horrific and tragic death, it will be worth every minute of my time.

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