Could technology end hot-car deaths?

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via Could technology end hot-car deaths?, clarionledger.com

PDF: hot-car-deaths

It’s been a particularly bad year for kids left in hot vehicles. Here in Mississippi alone, there have already been two high-profile cases in which parents forgot their little ones in the car, then went about their business — to tragic effect. The website KidsAndCars.org reports that 29 kids have died of heatstroke in the U.S. this year after being left in hot cars by parents or caregivers, and the number continues to climb.

While many parents shake their head in disbelief and doubt it could ever happen to them, the sobering truth is it could happen to anyone, under the right conditions. Few parents can claim to have a perfect record of knowing where their kids are every second, and most parents can tell a horror story about losing their child in a store, at an event, or just forgetting to check on them.

Every time there’s another case, the internet and media clamor with recriminations, suggestions and word of new techniques and technologies to help stop it from happening. But last week, a group of lawmakers announced their intention to force auto manufacturers to build preventive technology into their vehicles.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Peter King, R-New York, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, introduced the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS Act of 2016) on Thursday, which, if enacted, would require the U.S. secretary of transportation to issue a rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles be equipped with a child safety alert system.

“Every year, dozens of children die when left in vehicles — one child every nine days,” Schakowsky noted. “These are horrible, preventable tragedies. The technology exists to prevent these deaths. You get a warning if you forget your keys in the ignition. You should get a warning if you forget your child in the back seat.”

Child-safety advocates were quick to praise the ruling. “I want to be very clear that this is not just a ‘seasonal’ problem,” Jackie Gillan, president of a group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a news release. “When summer ends, the problem will not end. These deaths are happening year round. This is a very reasonable and effective way to stop preventable, unnecessary injuries and deaths.”

The bill would require automakers to produce some kind of visual and/auditory alert to a child in a rear seat when the motor is turned off and instructs the secretary of transportation to issue a report to a Senate committee on the “feasibility of retrofitting existing passenger motor vehicles with technology to provide an alert that a child or unattended passenger remains in a rear-seating position after the vehicle motor is deactivated.”

Some automakers have already been working on the problem. Back in June, General Motors announced it would debut a new system on the 2017 GMC Acadia SUV, which will flash a visible and auditory warning on the speedometer if a back door has been opened and closed before the driver’s side door is opened. Similar systems are likely to follow in most vehicles. But no matter the technology, the best way to prevent such tragedies is awareness.

“We encourage individuals in all communities to take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle,” noted Amber Andreasen, director of KidsAndCars.org. “Try to find the driver of the vehicle, call 911 and if the child seems to be in imminent danger, break the window furthest away from the child to rescue them.”

“You can’t buy a vehicle today that doesn’t remind you to turn your headlights off, close the door, check your oil, all these things,” Andreasen added. “There’s dozens of reminders in vehicles. Why not one for a child?”

KidsAndCars has a list of safety tips for download at http://www.kidsandcars.org/files/2015/06/Heat-Stroke-Safety-Tips.pdf. Here are a few:

  • Never leave children alone in or around vehicles; not even for a minute.
  • “Look Before You Lock” — Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle.
  • Create reminders to check your back seat. For example, putting your cellphone, purse or briefcase in the back seat will help you to remember.
  • Make sure your child’s daycare or preschool has strict policies about notifying you if your child has not arrived as scheduled, and keep your contact information up to date.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages (and ask your neighbors to do the same). Many kids get trapped in cars by opening doors of a parked vehicle.
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