Our vehicles talk back to us all the time, and newer models are particularly garrulous. Ding-ding-ding: You forgot to fasten your seat belt. Ding: You’re swerving, even slightly, out of your lane. Ding: Your emergency brake is on. Ding: Your trunk is not latched tightly.
The dings can be annoying, but the many alerts make driving safer. So it is surprising that vehicle manufacturers are not mandated to alert drivers to the most precious situation of all — a child left in a rear-facing backseat carrier.
The consequences are tragic. Thirty-one children died this year in this country after being left alone in vehicles; including seven in just the first half of August. More than 800 have died of heatstroke in cars since 1990, Consumer Reports reported. On average, one child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle nearly every 10 days, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The deaths are preventable; the technology exists.
Once again, bills are before Congress to change this situation. The Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS Act) requires all car manufacturers to install an alert for drivers to check the rear seat when the car is turned off. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is one of three sponsors of the bill introduced in the Senate in July and a similar House version was introduced last month.
The bills were sent July 10 to the full House and Senate for consideration, but govtrack.com cites only a 15 percent chance of enactment. That’s dismal.
Similar bills that could save children’s lives languished two years ago with no action.
Should it take an act of Congress to make parents or caretakers more responsible? Not necessarily. But it’s a fact of modern life that changes to a routine or other distractions can make a parent forget that a child is in a car seat, of which only the back is visible in the rear-view mirror.
The bill introduced in 2017 was in response to the tragic death of 15-month-old Benjamin Seitz of Ridgefield in 2014. His father drove to work one July day with his son in the properly installed rear-facing carrier. Only when Kyle Seitz went to Benjamin’s day care to pick him up, and learned he was never dropped off, did the father realize the horror that his son was still in the car.
A simple alert could have prevented the toddler’s death.
General Motors and Chevrolet have included rear-seat reminders as standard equipment since 2017. Other car manufacturers should be required to follow suit.
One only has to recall back to the string of 100-degree days not long ago to shudder at the thought of a child, or pet, left in a car for even a short time.
Your car can ding when a side door is open; certainly an alert should be standard to check the back seat. That one more ding or dashboard message could save a child’s life.