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 / Updated  / Source: msnbc.com contributor
By By Craig Berman

When my wife and I had our first child about 18 months ago, it was a moment filled with every positive emotion known to man — and a little bit of fear. I barely knew how to change a diaper. How was I possibly going to keep our baby safe from harm?

Fortunately, the hospital helped by making sure we were at least prepared to make that first trip home safely. We could not take the little guy with us until our car seat had been checked, double-checked and properly certified. The doctors had no idea whether we were bringing him home to a mansion or a shelter, or feeding him infant formula or cold pizza, but they made sure that he would be transported safely to wherever we were going.

There's a reason why that's emphasized so much: Car seats save lives. Of course, for them to be effective, you have to actually use them.

Which brings us to Britney Spears.

The former Mouseketeer put her cartoon-like reasoning skills on display by driving off from a Malibu Starbucks with her four-month-old in her lap and one hand on the wheel, a display frowned upon even in Hollywood.

That got her a visit from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, though it doesn't appear any charges are forthcoming since the deputies didn't actually witness any crimes taking place. Had she actually been pulled over, the cops would have had a laundry list of potential violations to choose from.

Celebrities and babies have always been an awkward combination. At best, they combine to fuel a cottage paparazzi industry of tabloid mother-and-child photos, or the baby-as-accessory spreads in sundry magazines. At worst, Michael Jackson dangles his infant son over a balcony railing for reasons nobody can fathom.

Obviously, nobody has ever confused Britney Spears with an expert in semiconductor physics (well, except these folks), but her latest misstep surges past the Vegas marriage and the whole Kevin Federline thing to become the dumbest thing she's ever done.

Spears claims she put her baby in her lap because she was freaked out after a disturbing encounter with the paparazzi. Even assuming that she's telling the truth rather than just playing the p-card, it was idiotic.

Let me get this straight: Britney Spears is worried about being followed and photographed by the paparazzi. Therefore, she races to her car, puts her child in a position where he's in danger … in front of a bunch of people with cameras whose missions in life are to take her picture doing dumb things? Unless she thought the photographers were actually planning to kidnap the child and hold him for ransom, it's a no-brainer to take the 90 seconds to safely buckle her son into the car seat.

Not to mention that if she's trying to do some fancy driving to elude pursuers, holding a wriggling infant isn't exactly a recipe for ruling the road. People can't seem to drive well when talking on the cell phone or drinking their lattes — she thinks she can escape from prying eyes with a four-month-old on her lap?

Basically, she put her child at risk for the sake of convenience, which is something always guaranteed to get a person on the news, and not in a good way. No scandal resonates like one involving a child, which means she'll be hearing about this one for a good long while.

Not just her lifeShe can do whatever she wants with her personal life — marry her childhood friend for 54 hours, kiss Madonna, get some tattoos or whatever tomorrow brings — and that's her business. People may think she does nutty things on occasion, but it's her life.

Putting her baby at risk, however, raises legitimate hackles. Has she not seen those old advertisements where a baby transforms into a sumo wrestler to illustrate how the force generated by a collision makes it nearly impossible to keep hold of a small child? Does she not know that if she bumps into another car and the airbag deploys, little Sean Preston Federline could suffocate?

On one level, it's easy to feel sorry for her. Sure, she's rich and famous, but look at her personal life. She married young, her husband is kind of a moron, and she's usually followed by crazy men with cameras who are trying to take her picture in a compromising position.

The thing is, though, that plenty of others in Hollywood share that sad story, and none have been photographed lately holding their babies up by the dashboard as they tootle down the road. Most people realize that babies aren't capable of protecting themselves very well, so it's up to the adults in their life to protect them.

In that, Spears let her child down.

When not further honing his parenting skills, Craig Berman covers “American Idol” for MSNBC.com.