Preventing hot car deaths

Silence the Horns Editorial, Fall 2019

In 2016, it seemed as if public opinion about parents who accidentally leave children in cars was evolving, thanks in part to Gene Weingarten's groundbreaking article in the Washington Post. In the wake of a tragedy that took the lives of one-year-old twins in late July, it is shocking to realize that what needed to change the most hasn't changed enough. While many now realize that good parents can forget a quiet, sleeping infant in a car seat, there is still a surprising number of people who are quick to condemn such parents. And it's unnerving to read cruel comments among the "Times Picks" in the reader comments section of the New York Times:

Anyone who leaves a child to die in an overheated car is a murderer.

The person may be remorseful but so what. You were entrusted with the care of a young soul
and you failed.

And... Kids aren't a bag of groceries or a cellphone. I've heard both sides, but I can't understand
how someone could be so addle-minded as to forget not one but two children in the backseat of a car.
This should absolutely be prosecuted as a crime.

As long as even a few among us still think that this is a choice, hot car deaths will continue to occur.

In the days since a young father discovered his twins in his car after leaving his job at the end of the day, mainstream and cable television news and print media covered the story the way that crime stories are covered - to a degree, as a form of entertainment. For days the story appeared in local news, on cable news, on afternoon talk shows, on political talk shows. Most of the discourse failed to touch on the now widely accepted scientific agreement on the circumstances that contribute to this type of memory lapse. One afternoon talk show covered the story by discussing the fact that the children's mother had forgiven her husband, the hosts asking, "Would you forgive your partner if this happened to you?" Even among the smartest and kindest among us, there is a lack of understanding of the fact that this is something that happens to you, and not something that you do.

After all this time, there is still no standard automotive safety mechanism. One automaker now has a dashboard reminder to check the back seat (in new cars) and Hyundai has created a rear occupant alert that uses horn honking. In 2016, we argued against using a horn sound for this emergency because North American society is now inured to horn honking as true emergency notification because the sound reflects so many scenarios.

House and Senate bills have been introduced. Each bill has few cosponsors, and skeptics recommending against the technology in favor of more education. argues that "Education of caregivers is at an all-time high," but how effective can it be if some still dismiss it as something that "I would never do"? The Automobile Alliance argues rightly so that it will take decades before technology is standard in every car. and the Automobile Alliance are both right, although technical solutions and education each need to be pursued more aggressively. And the use of horn sounds - or any vehicle alert that is currently being used - should be carefully considered.


Previous Editorials
Notes from the field: Spring 2018
Please, angry drivers - think before you honk
Marketing quiet while adding to noise pollution
12 Ways to Turn Up the Quiet TM
Cultural values about sound begin to shift
How I spent my summer vacation 2016
Quiet by design
Missed opportunities
How will we recognize an emergency when we finally need to?
How I spent my summer vacation
The restorative power of - gas stations and parking lots?
Because everything really does matter
A voice for those who will not or cannot speak
Honking and remote locks - pointless and preventable

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