Column: Unintended consequences

I've got a theory and no facts to back it up. I didn't search Google or Bing, nor did I throw my Ping putter, though I've been sorely tempted to in recent weeks.

The issue is peripherally tied to the news that a couple was arrested after leaving an infant in their car while they shopped at the Kingman Walmart. Rather than focus on that, I'll point to something else that I think is true as it relates to unintended consequences.

Going strictly on memory, I've got to say that until a few years ago, I never heard of an infant who died after being left in a car by a parent or guardian, winter or summer.

And here's my theory why: Blame air bags, those things that inflate when your vehicle is involved in an accident.

As I recall, there was serious debate among policymakers and others about requiring car manufacturers to install air bags, which at the time were the Next Big Thing in terms of accident protection.

The details in my mind are hazy, but eventually it got to the point where all new cars sold in the U.S. had to have at least one air bag and then they had to have two, including one for the front seat passenger.

Now, some cars have a half-dozen of the things. Pretty soon, I suppose someone will come up with a device that will sense an accident is about to occur, the air bags will fill with helium and your car will just float away.

There's no question, though, that air bags have saved lives. The problem is, they also kill infants strapped into their approved chairs in the front seat.

One particular story still sticks with me of a dad and his son involved in a minor fender-bender. The boy was killed when the bag deployed, and even though the father was not guilty of breaking any law, a judge sentenced him to spend one day a year in jail - on the son's birthday.

The man appealed to a higher authority by taking his own life.

My parenting infants days are long gone, and they occurred years before air bags were installed in even the finest cars. I remember strapping my children in the carrier into the front seat. I remember holding the children while my bride was behind the wheel.

And I also remember that crazy, hectic day when I placed the carrier containing my son on top of the car, throwing other stuff in the back seat and almost putting the car in gear before realizing my mistake.

I still shudder and offer a silent prayer when I think about what almost happened.

I never told anyone that story before.

If I was required to put my son in the back seat, it may not have dawned on me that he was still in the carrier on top of the car until it was too late.

I'm not saying our local Walmart shoppers forgot their infant son, but I'll bet they did. And I think we don't hear as much about infants being left in cars anymore because there was a lot more of that happening right after parents started putting the children in the back seat.

That's the kind of news that people don't forget. It has created awareness.

Reporter Suzanne Adams said one handy tip for folks who keep an infant car seat in back is to stick a small stuffed animal in it. When the baby is on board, put the stuffed animal on the dash as a constant reminder that there is precious cargo back there.

That's a very good idea, one I'll use next year if I happen to have the privilege of driving while my very first grandson travels in the back seat.

His safety is very important to me. In four or five years, I want the opportunity to take him to the golf course with me.

I'll even teach him how to throw the Ping putter.