As number of hot car deaths skyrocketed in 2018 with 53 fatalities, passage of Hot Car Act becomes paramount
Since 1998, 829 children have died due to Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke in the US and studies say 80% of them were age three and younger.
An Arizona mom from Chandler was arrested earlier this week after she inadvertently left her baby locked in a hot car in a Target parking lot, according to the authorities. The temperature reached 108 degrees in Chandler. Recently, 39-year-old Juan Rodriguez left his twins in the car for eight hours while he went to work at a Bronx hospital last week. The twins died of heatstroke. He was charged on Saturday with two counts each of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child. He told the police that it was a mistake.
Since 1998, 829 children have died due to Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH) in the United States, and 32 have died this year alone, according to No Heat Stroke, an organization that studies hyperthermia deaths of children. Last year, the number was 53. It was the worst one so far. As many as eight children have already died in hot cars across the country in August alone.
All of these deaths could have been prevented, believes Kids And Cars (KAC) safety group, which is urging the passage of The Hot Cars Act of 2019, introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) that would require all new passenger cars to be “equipped with a child safety alert system.”
The safety group began collecting the date about two decades ago and discovered that children were dying in hot cars at an alarming rate. "Because these tragedies happen off of public roadways, they were not being tracked by anybody and the KAC began to document all cases of children left alone or those who got into vehicles and became trapped," said KAC Director Amber Rollins, in an email to MEA World Wide. What this data collection found was that on average 38 children die in hot cars every year.
It gets worse. Some 80% of children who died from vehicular heatstroke were age three and younger, their research found while 54% of heatstroke deaths in vehicles involve children age one and younger.
They are not bad parents
"In over half of hot car child fatalities, the child was unknowingly left by an otherwise responsible, loving parent or caregiver. Most people believe this only happens to "bad parents" but nothing could be further from the truth," said Rollins. Research by neuroscientist David M. Diamond, who is a professor at the University of South Florida has shown that it is a form of memory loss that could get worse when they're under stress.
Raising awareness is simply not enough
Education and awareness are simply not enough, said Rollins. But there is something that can solve the problem. She suggested that all vehicles should come equipped with an ultrasonic motion-sensor technology alarm to prevent children from dying trapped inside hot cars.
The technology, to be incorporated by Hyundai Motor Group in most of their new cars by 2022, will feature a door logic system which "will detect if a rear door is opened or closed before the car is started, then display a message on the center cluster when exiting the vehicle for the driver to check the back." This will also prevent children from getting stuck in case they happen to climb in by themselves.
"We feel very strongly that technology is absolutely necessary to prevent hot car tragedies. Education and awareness are at an all-time high and yet, so is the number of children dying in hot cars," Rollins said. This system also sends an alert to the owner's phone after the car is turned off.
Currently, Kia and Hyundai are including systems in some models that could sense the presence of a child inside the vehicle. In Kia vehicles, audible and visual warnings are provided if unattended passengers remain in the rear seating area after the car is turned off.
The first alert is a visual reminder to check the back seat and is triggered by door sequencing if the rear door is opened prior to driving. The second alert is triggered when movement and/or weight is detected inside the vehicle after the engine has been turned off and the doors are locked. The second alert sounds the vehicle’s horn for about 25 seconds and will go off eight times if someone doesn’t disable the alarm by unlocking the vehicle. Furthermore, a push notification will be sent to the registered account holder’s smartphone upon triggering the second alert, said Rollins.
Other automobile manufacturers like General Motors, Nissan, Tesla, Honda, and Subaru are including systems that work via door sequencing, said Rollins. However, they need to be worked on. "So, if you open the back door prior to driving somewhere when you turn the car off a reminder will sound. These types of systems could fail to protect children in many scenarios," she said, citing an example. "If you are supposed to drop off a child at daycare on your way to work and you stop to get gas. If you do not open the back door while stopped for gas, you will not get a reminder alert at your final destination."