Jul 29 2019
New Bill Would Keep Minors Safe
For many drivers, our most precious cargo is often in the backseat: a child. Every caregiver knows the extra precautions they take when driving with a youngster. But the greatest danger can sometimes happen when the trip is over, the car is parked, and the child is accidentally left behind.
Last year, 52 children died in parked vehicles because they were alone, the temperature rose, and they suffered a heatstroke. Babies and toddlers are more sensitive to heat than adults because their bodies cannot regulate temperature changes as effectively. Since 1998, more than 800 minors have died in exactly this type of scenario, sometimes in weather as cool as 60 degrees. These tragedies can happen to any family, particularly during heat waves like the one parts of our country recently experienced.
These deaths are terrible, but preventable. Education plays an important role in reduction, but technology is also part of the answer. Earlier this month, the Senate Commerce Committee, which I chair, took up this issue by approving a bill I sponsored called the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act of 2019, or the HOT CARS Act.
The HOT CARS Act
The HOT CARS Act takes key lessons from public awareness campaigns, private practice, and vehicle safety legislation to tackle this matter head on. It would direct states to conduct educational initiatives about prevention and instruct the U.S. Department of Transportation to require alert systems in new passenger vehicles. An alert, taking one second of a driver’s time, could save dozens of young lives every year.
These kinds of reminders assist drivers and keep people safe every day already, such as when they forget to buckle up, leave a door open, or drive on underinflated tires. People make small mistakes like these all the time, and it is helpful when technologies catch them. Such a warning for unattended children would make it less likely a small mistake turns into a fatal accident. This relatively affordable equipment would save lives.
Working With Industry
Some auto manufacturers are already taking measures to install these systems to protect children. For example, certain new car models monitor when the rear door is opened and closed before and after a vehicle is in motion. The driver is notified if the door is not re-opened after the trip. Other versions detect movement in the back seat. I have been encouraged by the voluntary actions businesses have taken to fix this problem, and Congress and the auto industry are working together to implement solutions.
There are also easy steps caregivers can take to prevent children’s deaths in hot cars. These are as simple as always checking the backseat, locking empty cars so that children do not climb inside and become trapped, leaving a toy in the front seat to remind drivers of the child, and putting a purse, cellphone, or wallet in the backseat. They can also work with their daycare to set up notifications when children are not dropped off and remember to be good neighbors by calling 911when a child is spotted alone and unable to get out of a vehicle.
But, as hard as everyone may try, no one is perfect. These precautions are not foolproof. The HOT CARS Act would empower drivers by providing the extra tools they need in their vehicles to keep their most precious cargo safe.