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With 30 Hot Car Deaths So Far This Year, Lawmakers Once Again Push For Alert Systems

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More than 30 children have died in hot cars so far in 2017, and two of those deaths occurred just last weekend. In an attempt to prevent these tragedies from happening, a group of lawmakers have once again introduced legislation that would require cars to be equipped with technology — that already exists — to alert drivers that a passenger remains in the back seat when a vehicle is turned off. 

The legislation — dubbed The Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seat Act (HOT CARS Act) — directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require cars come equipped with technology to alert the driver to check the back seat when the car is turned off.

The measure, like many before it, seeks to prevent the dozens of deaths that occur when children are unknowingly left in hot cars each year.

Hot Car Deaths

According to KidsAndCars.org, an average of 37 children die each year from heatstroke after being left behind in cars. Since 1990, the organization has recorded 793 deaths of children in hot cars.

Last year, 39 children died from vehicular heatstroke. That figure could be surpassed in 2017, as 30 children have died so far this year.

Jackie Gillan, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, warned Monday that the number of vehicle heatstroke deaths will likely continue to grow this year with temperatures climbing over the next few months.

Eleven deaths occurred in July alone, with two taking place last weekend. ABC News reports that two infants died in separate incidents in Arizona on July 28 and July 29.

A seven-month-old boy died 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 one-year-old boy was discovered deceased after his father made two roundtrip drives between the family’s home and a church.

Police, who have not filed charges against any of the people involved in the Arizona incidents, say they are investigating the cases.

KidsAndCars notes that in an overwhelming majority of these very sad incidents, the child was unknowingly left by a parent or guardian.

Of the 793 child vehicular heatstroke cases tallied by KidsAndCars, 55% or 436 fatalities occurred when a child was unknowingly left in the vehicle.

Pushing For Changes…Again

To reduce the chance that a child is unknowingly left in a vehicle, lawmakers are once again pushing for legislation that would require car manufacturers to equip vehicles with sensors to detect if a child is the back seat.

The Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seat Act (HOT CARS Act) was reintroduced Monday by Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Al Franken (MN), aiming to ensure that an alert system is standard equipment in cars.

Such technology is already available in some vehicles, including many of GM’s 2017 and 2018 models, the lawmakers noted.

In June 2016, GM debuted a new rear seat reminder feature that sounds a warning tone and alerts drivers to “Look In Rear Seat,” with a message flashing in the center of the vehicle’s speedometer.

But one carmaker isn’t enough, the lawmakers say, noting that this technology should be standard in all vehicles.

“A simple sensor could save the lives of dozens of children killed tragically in overheated cars each year, and my bill would ensure such technology is available in every car sold in the United States,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

In addition to requiring NHTSA to mandate such sensor systems in vehicles, the legislation directs the agency to work with a third-party to conduct a study on how to best retrofit existing vehicles with such systems.

This study would provide recommendations to manufacturers to make sure products perform as intended; and to consumers on how to select the right technology.

The Senate’s HOT CARS Act comes nearly two months after Representatives Tim Ryan (OH), Peter King (NY) and Jan Schakowsky (IL) introduced companion legislation, the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats (HOT CARS) Act of 2017.

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