ST. GEORGE — A law has been proposed that would require car manufacturers to include sensors in rear seats to prevent children from unknowingly being left in hot cars. The announcement coincided with the designation of July 31 as National Heatstroke Prevention Day.
On Monday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Al Franken, D-Minn., held a press conference to announce the introduction of the Hot Cars Act – Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in the Rear Seat.
If passed, the Senate bill would require new vehicles to be equipped with a visual and auditory alert system to remind parents to check the rear seat. It also requires a study on retrofitting cars with reminder systems.
The technology would be similar to alerts that remind drivers to check their tire pressure, put on their seat belts or close an open door.
Over the weekend, two more children tragically died due to heatstroke because they were unknowingly left in a car, Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said at the press conference.
A 7-month-old boy died in Arizona Friday after being left in a vehicle parked in his home’s driveway after the child’s usual daycare drop-off routine didn’t occur. The next day, a 1-year-old boy was discovered deceased after his father made two round-trip drives between the family’s home and a church.
“A total of 30 children have already died this year and we expect the number of deaths to rise as temperatures climb over the next few months,” Gillian said. “These deaths are agonizing, they are completely avoidable and there is technology that should be in every car to save lives.”
Dr. David Diamond, a professor in the Departments of Psychology, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida and an expert on neuroscience, said that a technological solution is essential because, in the majority of cases, children are left unknowingly by caring and devoted parents or caregivers.
“It is important to stress that these parents do not have a reckless disregard for the care of their children,” Diamond said in a statement. “Rather, common factors like a change in routine, lack of sleep or even simple distractions can all have an effect on even the most responsible parents. From a brain science perspective, parents can, through no fault of their own, lose awareness of the presence of a child in the car.”
Therefore, Diamond added, it is imperative that there be a system to provide an alert to remind parents of the presence of a child in the backseat.
“This is a modern phenomenon which requires a modern solution,” Diamond said.
Lindsey Rogers-Steiz, the mother of a 15-month-old boy named Benjamin, who died in 2014 of vehicular heatstroke, has championed federal action and has met with lawmakers and government officials to advocate for a child reminder system in every new car.
“If there had been notification systems in vehicles, then hundreds of mothers just like me would still have the blessing of holding their children in their arms today,” Rogers-Seitz said at the conference. “Technology can account for researched and proven faults in human memory, and it can save children’s lives.”
Education and awareness aren’t enough to stop child deaths caused by heatstroke, said Amber Andreasen, director of the advocacy group Kids and Cars.
“If parents aren’t believing that this can happen to them, then they’re not taking the needed safety precautions to keep their children safe,” Andreasen said in a statement. “A standard technology that would be in all vehicles to protect all children is what we really need.”
Since 1990, more than 800 children have been killed in hot cars, Janette Fennell, Founder and President of Kids and Cars, said.
“Every summer, children are dying and families are suffering,” Fennell said. “We cannot stand by and allow these deaths to occur when technology is available and affordable to save a life.”
Since 1996, at least 12 child deaths due to vehicular heatstroke have occurred in Utah, Kids and Cars representatives said.
- H.R.2801 – HOT CARS Act of 2017
- Audio recording of HOT CARS Act press conference
- Heatstroke Fact Sheet and Safety Tips
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