This month, a new safety bill was introduced in Congress that could extend vehicle safety systems beyond seat belts and backup cameras. The proposed law would require a reminder system that notifies a driver when a child is left in the backseat.
The legislation - The Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act - addresses injuries and deaths caused by heatstroke when children are forgotten in car seats. Why is the new reminder system necessary? When could cars come equipped with the new safety feature? We'll answer these questions in this post.
Couldn't happen to me
At least 29 children have died in hot cars so far this year. Since 1998, 682 children have died of heatstroke while left in the back seat of a vehicle. Stigma against parents who leave a child in the car means that many near-fatal accidents never get reported.
How this can happen? Two tragic stories from the summer are illustrative:
- A 3-year-old died when his father forgot him on his way into church
- In another, the father's girlfriend forgot to drop the child at daycare and then went into work
With myriad distractions and overtired parents, all it takes is one small slip. In addition, newborns heads are often not visible in rear-facing car seats. On a hot day, a child's body temperature can rise 10 to 20 degrees in as little as five minutes.
Sadly, it is often parents involved in these cases. But this can also happen when a nanny or other babysitter leaves a child unattended.
Reducing the numbers
The new law would require a final rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation within two years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would need to determine how to put the requirement into effect.
This means it will be some time until new vehicles are coming equipped with such safety mechanisms. In the short-term, technology already exists that provides a warning if a child is left in a vehicle. But it needs to be purchased and installed after-market.
Reminders exist for seat belt use, a beep indicates if you are too close to an obstacle or leaving a lane. The next step will be to incorporate systems that will effectively work to prevent these heatstroke tragedies.