Yesterday was a devastating day with three children dying in hot cars nationwide. A 2-year-old boy was found dead inside his grandparent’s vehicle outside of a childcare facility in Oneonta, AL yesterday. In Jacksonville, FL an 8-month-old girl was unknowingly left in her father’s vehicle outside their residence and died. Finally, in Houston, TX a man was shot, then his SUV was stolen with his 2-year-old son in the back seat. The car thief abandoned the vehicle, leaving the child to die in the back seat.
The recent tragedy in Houston connects two devastating yet predictable and preventable types of dangers being addressed by Kids and Car Safety, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to saving children’s lives in and around vehicles.
Already this year, Kids and Car Safety has documented at least 200 children who were left unattended inside a vehicle that was then stolen with them alone inside. In most cases the thief was unaware that there was a child in the back seat of the stolen vehicle. When they realize that their crime has now been ratcheted up from a car theft to kidnapping. they either force the child out of the vehicle or abandon the vehicle with the child alone inside leaving them to face a whole host of dangers.
Kids and Car Safety makes available public service announcements (PSAs) that can be used by the media to bring attention to the frequent and dangerous problem of children being taken during the theft of a vehicle.
In addition to the systemic problem of carjackings, since 1990, over 1,000 children have died in hot cars and at least another 7,300 survived with varying types and severities of injuries, according to data collected by Kids and Car Safety. The majority of hot car fatalities involve children who were unknowingly left by an otherwise loving, responsible parent or caregiver (56%). Additionally, about a fourth (26%) of children who die in hot cars got into the car on their own and became trapped.
Vehicle ‘occupant detection technology’ could have saved all three of the children that died yesterday.
“When we talk about occupant detection systems, we typically think of how this can prevent hot car deaths,” said Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Car Safety. She continued, “However, what most people don’t realize is that occupant detection can also eliminate a number of other common child vehicle injuries and deaths including cars stolen with children alone inside, power window and seat belt strangulation, vehicles being knocked into gear and the many other things that go wrong when a child is alone in a vehicle. The time for automakers to act is now. Children’s lives are at stake. We need to DETECT TO PROTECT.”
Several automakers are currently installing occupant detection systems in select makes and models (Kia, Hyundai, Genesis), while the majority of others are choosing to use simplistic, less effective ‘rear seat reminder alerts.’ The use of rear seat reminder systems is causing advocates a great deal of concern due to the false sense of security for families and inability for these systems to actually detect a child’s presence in the vehicle.
In November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden. It includes a provision that addresses hot car tragedies. It is now up to U.S. DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to determine what technology to require and issue a safety standard by November, 2023 that will address hot car tragedies in a comprehensive manner.
As the NHTSA continues to work on issuing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for hot car technology, automakers do not have to wait. Occupant detection and alert technology costing less than $50 is currently available and provides comprehensive and compelling solutions to end these needless tragedies. Automakers can and they should begin installing this technology immediately.