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Hyperthermia and Children in Cars

Bruce Schneier writes about the risks involving children abandoned in cars and cites an article about the tragic deaths of children in hot cars [1]. One unfortunate error that he made was to not cite the following from the end of the last page of the Washington post article he cited [2]:
In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”

I believe that similar thought processes are used in relation to many other situations, and that such thought processes prevent people from taking appropriate actions to minimise the risk. If someone considers that forgetting a child in the back seat to be an accident that could happen to anyone then they would be inclined to take action to minimise the risk (such as spending some money on a sensor). If however they consider such forgetfulness to be proof of being a “bad parent”, then as they are a “good parent” they would have to avoid buying a monitor. I’m surprised that Bruce didn’t draw an analogy between this and the forgetful losses of laptops and guns by people who work for law enforcement agencies (which he has written about before).

I wonder how expensive it would be to make a sensor for heart-rate, breathing, and temperature integrated with a GSM modem and a GPS? If it could be small enough to be attached to clothes then the child could wear it at all times.

If such a sensor was to detect a sign of a problem it wouldn’t matter whether the child was forgotten in a car, at day-care, or even being actively supervised. The data would be sent to the monitoring agency along with GPS data. The monitoring agency could then phone the parents. If the parents don’t answer or don’t know where the child is then the police could track down the GPS location. Probably most calls would be due to parents leaving a child too close to an air-conditioner or playing outside in the sun in summer which are unlikely to give a fatal result and a phone call would get a quick fix for what would only be a minor health problem.

If the device was marketed as monitoring for “sleep apnia” then parents could buy it without admitting to the possibility that they might do anything wrong. The causes of SIDS are a topic of ongoing research and parents can admit to being worried about their children suffering from it without admitting any possibility that they might make a mistake.

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