With 32 Children Dead from Vehicular-Related Heatstroke, Senate Bill Pushes for Backseat Sensor

By: Ryan Gallagher August 17, 2017
32 American children have died so far in 2017 from being left in hot vehicles. A proposed law aims to thwart the fatalities.
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Apparently we need technology to tell us where to go, what to eat, and most recently, to not leave children in a deathly-hot car.

Support is building nationwide for a new law meant to stop the habit, proposed in the U.S. Senate, after two Phoenix-area children died late July in separate vehicular-related heatstroke incidents. These tragedies have increased this summer’s death toll of children left in hot cars to 32.

In each case, both Josiah Riggins, 1, and Zane Endress, 7 months, died after being left in the backseat of a vehicle by their guardian. Arizona law enforcement has yet to file charges in either case.

A Senate bill introduced for review in late July by Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) would create a mandatory backseat sensor in all new vehicles, alerting drivers that children are in the rear seat. It also includes a provision to study the feasibility of adding such devices to older cars. It’s called, aptly, the HOT CARS—Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seat—Act.

“A simple sensor could save the lives of dozens of children killed tragically in overheated cars each year, and our bill would ensure such technology is available in every car sold in the United States,” said Blumenthal. “It can take mere minutes on a hot day for a car to turn into a deathtrap for a small child.”

With the summer season still going strong, parents and caregivers should be aware of the deadly consequences of this negligence. In just 10 minutes on a hot summer day, a car’s interior temperature can jump 20 degrees. What’s even more important, children are more inclined to overheat—more than 3 to 5 times faster than an adult.

By mid-June, there were already 11 hot-car deaths in the U.S. By July, that number spiked to record levels at 29, said Jan Null, who researches and tracks trends in hot-car deaths and logs the research on noheatstroke.org. An expert in this area, he is also a meteorologist with the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University.

These numbers are “the highest we’ve ever had,” said Null. Before 2017, the record as of July 31st was 28 deaths in 2010, “a year where we ended up with 49 deaths for the year.”

The proposed law—which is currently under Senate review—aims to save children’s lives before vehicular-related heatstroke can set in. However, it will also address the painful legal process that follows any death of this type.

“The technology would help because if you’re in a vehicle, your child is in the back seat, and you ignore that alarm: Go to jail. Do not pass go. You had a chance,” said Janette Fennell of the advocacy group KidsandCars.org. “You talk to any of the judges, they’ll tell you, [these cases are] beyond the hardest things they have to deal with.”

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