The federal Hot Cars Act aims to prevent deaths in sweltering vehicles. Can technology help save lives?

With the support of child safety advocates and Rep. Tim Ryan, Jan Schakowsky are pushing for the standardization of the technology in all new cars. On May 12, the U.S. House of Representatives reintroduced the Hot Cars Act.

It has been a difficult battle. Similar proposals for years have been rejected or partially supported. Throughout all this, hot car deaths have continued. New vehicles must be equipped with technology to detect if someone is still inside the engine when it is turned off. This alerts the driver to avoid heatstroke and other injuries. KidsAndCars.org data shows that over 1000 children have died of heatstroke in hot cars from 1990 to date. 2018 saw 54 deaths from heatstroke in hot cars, making it the year with the highest number of child hot car deaths. Janette Fennell, founder of KidsAndCars.org, wants to reduce the number children who are killed in hot cars. Summer is coming.

Fennell stated, “We have been working on this [child hot-car deaths] issue for 25 years. It’s so very disappointing that people don’t understand how many children are killed or injures after being in a vehicle alone.”

This technology uses sensors to detect children and pets. Vayyar’s 3-D imaging sensor can detect movement in the car even after the engine has been turned off. The system will notify the registered driver by text message or phone, and sound the alarm. If the car is an electric model, it will also activate the air conditioner. Other technologies can also detect temperature, carbon dioxide, weight and vitals. Today, Hyundai and Kia have similar systems in some models.

Children dying in hot cars has created a tragic image across the country. These are just a few of the many tragic incidents.

  • Jackson, Mississippi – A simple miscommunication while on his way to church led to the death of a 3-month-old boy.
  • After his father believed he had dropped his son off at daycare, a 3-year-old boy was killed. He thought he dropped his son off at daycare, but he left his child behind in the car.
  • Mason, Ohio – A 15-month old girl was killed when her mother forgot her in her car on the way to work when she arrived home. She realized the problem when her husband called to inform her that her child wasn’t at daycare when they went to pick her up.
  • Arizona 2-year-old girl, who found her way to the garage in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep, died. She accidentally locked herself inside the car when she climbed in. It was too late for her father to find her.

The legislation has failed in previous iterations. The Hot Cars Act of 2019, which was introduced in the Senate, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives under The Moving Forward Act. However, it has been stuck at a standstill ever since. Fennell is hopeful that the recent introduction of the Hot Cars Act of 2019 will reinforce the need for such legislation, and allow it to be passed as an independent act.

The new carseat gadget is designed to stop hot car deaths

Ryan has been advocating the legislation for approximately five years. Ryan introduced the Hot Cars Act in 2016 as a standalone bill. Families of children who lost their child shared their stories at hearings to raise awareness of the issue. Take a look before you lock: Child safety advocates are concerned about hot car deaths due to stress and rising temperatures Ryan stated, “We introduce it with great frustration because we have not been able to get it done over these past few Congresses.” “But I believe that this Congress offers a real opportunity.” They have also allowed Schakowsky and other advocates, KidsAndCars.org, to share statistics, studies, and stories that show the simple technological solution. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Cathy Chase said that the new technology was practical and affordable.

“We had several demonstrations on Capitol Hill to inform legislators that this technology is extremely precise and also very affordable,”Chase stated. There are many technologies that can save lives. Yet, auto manufacturers resist putting them in cars for many reasons. This is to the detriment of all motoring public. It is difficult to quantify statistically the problem of hot car deaths. The national Fatality Analysis and Reporting System (FARS), collects data about fatal accidents on highways and public roads. It doesn’t have data on roads and highways that are not public. KidsAndCars.org filled in the gaps by collecting statistics about child hot cars, trunk deaths and cars that run over children.

According to data from the organization, there are on average 39 deaths each year due to heatstroke in hot cars. In 2020, there were 25 deaths. This is significantly lower than in the previous year. Fennell believes that part of the reason was that most people were in quarantine for the majority of the year and didn’t need to drive their children to school or daycare. Chase stated that the percentage of children getting into hot cars and causing death from them climbed on to vehicles increased in 2020 despite a decrease in overall deaths.

According to David Diamond, a psychologist at the University of South Florida, it is likely that hot car deaths will rise again. COVID-19 incidences are declining across the country and people are returning back to their offices, as well as following their old patterns. Diamond stated, “Everyone was out from their routine, so people weren’t going to work. This increases susceptibility to leaving a child.” It’s sad, but we expect to reverse the high number of children who die in car accidents as soon as everyone returns to normal. Investigators examine the scene in Donelson (Tennessee), where a 5-month old boy was found dead inside a minivan that had been left overheated by his mother Tuesday, August 7, 2012.

He stated that anyone can die in a hot car accident with a child. He said that there is a common misconception that parents believe that it won’t happen to them, even though they are good parents. He said, “This is not a property of negligence, it’s not a characteristic a negligent parent, but it’s a failing in the brain.” “I like the idea of saying that, as amazing as the brain can be, it can also be very flawed. How can a parent forget to take their child with them in the car? Diamond stated that it happens because of habit. Memory errors are most often caused by prospective memory. Prospective memory is when someone plans to do a task in the near future without any prompts or cues. A hot car death could lead to a parent going straight to work while their child is at daycare.

The other parent takes over the responsibility for the child’s care when the parent who dropped the child off becomes ill. They fall into a habit-based mental system that is influenced by the basal Ganglia structure of their brain. As a result, they go to work, but lose consciousness that the child is in there.

Diamond suggests that people create a cue to let others know there is a child inside the car. This will prevent autopilot from turning on and alert someone that the child is in an altered routine. Diamond suggests that parents keep a small object or stuffed animal in their car. When they are out with the child on a drive, they bring the object or stuffed animals to the front of their car and place it on the dashboard. This way, when they get out of the car, their parent will have a visual cue to remind them that a child is in backseat.

He said, “The reason people would feel foolish writing a note to themselves and maybe putting it on their dashboard or steering wheel is because we value the child’s lives so much that it would reduce the child’s.” Technology would establish a standard for auto safety that is similar to the various reminders displayed on today’s dashboards. Fennell states that the Hot Car Act was created to be part of all other warnings in cars. Fennell stated, “When you consider the fact that you can’t buy a car that doesn’t remind you to turn on your headlights or turns it off automatically for you, why would someone think that this is more important than the lives of a child?”

Updated 01/19/22