Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


30 vs 150,000

For your consideration, two articles in today’s New York Times. First, “How to Remind a Parent of the Baby in the Car?:”

INFANTS or young children left inside a vehicle can die of hyperthermia in a few hours, even when the temperature outside is not especially hot. It is a tragedy that kills about 30 children a year, according to the National Safety Council.

Janette Fennell is the founder and president of, a safety advocacy group based in Leawood, Kan., that focuses on issues involving children and automobiles. In a telephone interview, Ms. Fennell made her view clear, saying she believed that carmakers must develop reminder devices to warn drivers if a child is left behind.

Second, “The Hard Sell on Salt:”

High blood pressure is rising among adults and children. Government health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year.

Bets on which problem is “addressed” first are encouraged in the comments.

9 comments on "30 vs 150,000"

  • Chris says:

    What this country needs is a good dashboard-mounted infant seat. Call NASA.

  • shrdlu says:

    Carmakers must develop devices that don’t start the car if the driver has had too much salt. Even moar lives saved!!

  • Nicko says:

    Please! Won’t someone just think of the children!!!

    Seriously though, there is a bunch of factors here that change people’s perceptions of risk and their responses to it. Firstly there is the obvious emotional charge of children dying. Secondly, (and probably evolutionarily related) is that in the case of infants in car seats, the victim has no control over the situation and someone else was supposed to be looking out for them, whereas death by salt is “self inflicted”. There is often more demand for regulation when someone should be looking out for someone else and there is also a much greater sense of guilt when they don’t. Thirdly, death through salt consumption is a slow process affected by interactions with many other causes and with no single event causing the death. People tend to want a quick fix, and there is no quick fix in this case since it requires lifestyle change. Lastly, regulation of lifestyle choices, especially ones around what we can consume for pleasure and around things we’ve been doing for years, is generally a pretty sensitive area.

    So, I’ll put my $1 on there being a law introduced forcing parents to buy costly car seat baby detector technology before there is a law offered up by damned liberals trying to force us all to eat bland food because they claim it’s good for us!

  • Marisa Fagan says:

    We’re naturally drawn to want to protect those that can’t protect themselves, and averse to taking away a grown persons right to hurt themselves any tasty way they please.

  • Russell says:

    This one is a no-brainer. Most of the people who would value the baby-still-in-the-car alarm already have a passive device installed: the “Baby on Board” yellow caution sign stuck to the back window. Somebody just needs to add active sensing to this passive device, a wireless connection to the car’s network and also to the driver’s key fob.

    As for reducing salt in prepared food, that’s clearly a “Grand Challenge” problem that deserves billions of research dollars for the food industry, plus maybe “depletion allowances” for the salt mining industry, to compensate them for the *possibility* of reduced demand in the future.


  • Chris says:

    I’d be fine with building a sensor into the seat. Have OnStar call 911 and report felony child neglect whenever a kid in the seat is detected and internal car temp exceeds 90 deg.

  • Dean says:

    It’s a simple attribution problem. Was THIS death caused by an overheated car? Absolutely. Was THAT death caused by too much salt? No, it was caused by a stroke, that might have been due to a birth defect, or it might have been due to transient hypertension due to an emotional shock, or it might have been the vessel simply deciding that now was time to go, possibly exacerbated by a lifetime of eating oversalted food, possibly in synergistic reaction with a genetic susceptibility to salt, or possibly due to other factors known to a few specialists but not to the coroner doing today’s autopsy. Or maybe not. You can’t build a compelling case out of a long chain of “maybe’s” when the noise in your epidemiological data is so bad that it’s barely enough to allow your paper to be published in a reputable journal. But if you can twist the results to make a snappy press release you can get some attention that will help your salary and tenure prospects.

  • Zac says:

    I say: make a dashboard mounted car seat out of salt. Skip talking to NASA and call the FoodTV guys instead. This will solve two problems with technology and thus never be used.

    However, since all the hypertensive parents are going to have heart attacks while driving their kids around and kill everyone in the car and likely an “innocent bystander” or two…

  • What’s Up! Just had to respond. I honestly was impressed by this blog

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