Honkin' Mad

A record number of kids are dying in hot cars. Should vehicles have back seat alarms?

Simple tips to avoid tragedy as hot car deaths reach highest toll on record

As scorching temperatures arrive with summer, it’s important to know the inside of a car can climb to deadly temperatures in a matter of minutes. A recent report concluded 52 children lost their lives in hot cars in 2018 – a record number.
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As scorching temperatures arrive with summer, it’s important to know the inside of a car can climb to deadly temperatures in a matter of minutes. A recent report concluded 52 children lost their lives in hot cars in 2018 – a record number.

Since 2018, 70 children have died in hot cars around the country.

But should automakers be required to install alarm systems, to alert parents who might otherwise leave their precious cargo in the back seat?

A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Hot Cars Act of 2019, would require car manufacturers to install such warning systems.

The House version would require a sensor system that would alert drivers with an audio warning that a child or pet is in the back seat. A handful of manufacturers, including Hyundai and Kia, have a feature known as rear occupant alert on a limited number of models.

The Senate version wouldn’t require a sensor, but would mandate an audible warning system. Precisely how the audible warning system would be triggered isn’t yet mentioned in the bill language.

Carmakers would have two years to adjust to the new requirement.

“Unfortunately we have learned that public education alone cannot overcome the serious risk of children being unknowingly left in hot cars,” Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a statement. “That is why it is so critical that vehicles be equipped with a detection and alert system so that drivers and caregivers are reminded of the presence of a child in the back seat ... Cars already remind us headlights have been left on, keys were left in the ignition and doors are ajar.”

The activity in Washington comes at a time when North Texas is experiencing a bit of a spike in hot car incidents.

On Wednesday in Denton, 2-year-old Sarbesh Gurung was found inside a neighbor’s vehicle after being missing for 16 hours. Police haven’t officially concluded that he died of heat stroke, or how he got in the car, but have said there were no signs of foul play.

On June 20 in Aubrey, 4-year-old Kaysen Neyland was found in a hot SUV outside his home. Temperatures were about 97 degrees at the time, officials said.

The boy’s mother, Lisa Neyland, has been charged with injury to a child.

The Hot Cars Act has bipartisan support, and is widely favored by organizations such as Kids And Cars, emergency medical providers, law enforcement and animal rights groups.

A record 52 children died in hot cars in 2018, and more than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990, according to Kids And Cars.

So far this year, 18 children have died in hot cars, including four in Texas, according to Kids And Cars.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a May statement, called for more public awareness of the issue but didn’t publicly support or oppose the bill. The organization represents Ford, General Motors, Toyota and many other carmakers.

“The Alliance will carefully review any legislative proposals keeping in mind that fewer than 13% of new car buyers have a child six years old or younger,” the organization said in a statement. “And with people keeping cars longer, it takes about two decades for a technology to reach all the passenger vehicles on our roads. Greater public awareness saves live today.”

Among those advocating for alarm systems is Miles Harrison, whose young son Chase died in a hot car in 2008 in Virginia.

“Every day I cry for Chase. I would have given my life to protect his. Knowing that a detection system and alert in my vehicle could have saved my son’s life is heartbreaking,” Harrison said. “This has got to stop and the technology to make it stop already exists. What are we waiting for?”

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.
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