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Carroll: Battling rumors and distractions
David Carroll
David Carroll is a longtime anchorman at WRCB television in Chattanooga, Tenn.

I wrote about “fixing stupid” recently, hoping we might see some progress. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go.

ISSUE 1: We’re not one to go ‘round spreading rumors. Oh, for those innocent days when the Hee Haw girls gossiped at the clothesline. Now we have texts, and tweets, and other instant ways to spread verbal manure.

Last week, my local university campus was on edge for two hours, during a school day. Someone called 9-1-1 to report a potentially dangerous man. He was said to be carrying a rifle, and headed in the direction of the university. The man was soon the subject of a search involving several police agencies.

Needless to say, the college kids were freaked out, and as word spread via social media, their parents were too. The tales became even more frightening. He became an armed man with a tactical vest. Soon there were reports he was wearing a ski mask. Someone knew for sure he was holding a hostage. One media outlet tweeted “Active Shooter on Campus.” Talk about scaring the daylights out of folks!

You may already know the outcome, but if not, here’s the short version. There were no shots fired, and no actual threat. It turned out the “dangerous man” was an off-duty police officer, carrying his gear on the street after his shift had ended. In an ironic twist of fate, when he heard about the commotion, he was among the officers who responded. In essence, he was searching for himself. Eventually, he figured out he was the cause of the misunderstanding.

The officer will surely be more careful about what he carries in public view, but hopefully, other lessons will be learned as well. Certainly, “if you see something, say something,” as we are often told. These days, anything can happen, anywhere, and we have too many tragic incidents that prove it.

The fear of a “suspicious man with a rifle” was bad enough. When the rumors and alternate facts were added on, the town was in a frenzy. In this age of journalism by tweets, no one knows what to believe. It's the wild, wild west, and no one can tame it.

ISSUE 2: School bus crashes are on the rise. The buses are huge and painted yellow as bright as can be. They’ve been around for a hundred years. Yet now they're like bumper cars on the highway. Folks are randomly rear-ending, side-swiping, and running head-on into school buses. Police officers say the same word comes up too often: distractions. We keep passing laws about mobile devices, but some drivers can’t kick the habit. How else to explain? Would you accidentally bump into an elephant? If you’re staring at your phone with your ears plugged up, probably yes.

ISSUE 3: Yet again, Kids Left in Hot Cars. At this writing, this year's death toll is up to 38 in the United States. In the past month, children aged 3 months, 4 months, and 6 months have been among the victims. There was even a set of year-old twins.

We are beyond the point of trusting parents to remember the children they brought into the world a few months ago. Some are insulted when I even suggest that.

A U.S. Senator says many of today’s parents are sleep-deprived, “walking around like zombies.” Psychologists have been kind enough to give it a label, “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.” One says, “It's being on autopilot, like forgetting you put your coffee cup on top of the car.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, among others, often proposes laws mandating alarms, sirens, and motion detectors to get parents' attention. The agency now figures that since parents are glued to their phones, they might as well try to rouse them on Twitter. “Use the hashtag #CheckForBaby,” they say.

A Florida psychology professor places the blame on air bags, introduced in the 1990s. Prior to air bags, he says, parents placed their children in car seats on the front passenger side. Since then, safety experts have recommended that children's car seats should be in the back.

Unfortunately, he says, “That means the child is not in plain view for a parent who might be distracted.” There's that word again.

I used to scoff at some of the solutions, like “Put something important (!) next to your child, so you don’t forget the child is in the back seat,” but I’m willing to support anything at this point.

One expert now recommends placing an “essential” item like a purse, wallet, or shoe in the back seat with your child, as a reminder to remove the child from your car. Notice, the expert didn’t say the phone. No responsible parent would ever be that far away from their phone. They might miss an adorable video. I just hope there’s not a school bus in their path.

David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or