Amber Rollins, director of national child-pet safety advocacy nonprofit KidsandCars.org, admits it’s been pretty busy at her office—and not for the most fortunate reasons. An onslaught of hot car tragedies plagued the recent summer months, leaving a total of 39 children and 62 pets dead from vehicular heatstroke.
At this rate, it’s possible this year’s stats will surpass last year’s record high; in 2018, 54 kids died from being left in a hot vehicle for too long.
The most unfortunate part about the issue of hot car entrapment is how “it’s totally preventable,” says Rollins. The vast majority of deaths occur because parents are unaware that their child is in the car. Only 13% of children involved in these incidents are knowingly left by caregivers.
For Rollins, the solution to stopping hot car deaths is obvious: government-sanctioned regulation. Others agree. These disturbingly high numbers have spurred legislators, automakers, and safety advocates to develop long-term solutions. So, what’s taking so long?
What the Tech?
The technology to save potential vehicular heatstroke victims exists, ranging from simple dashboard reminders to rear-seat motion detection systems that trigger a horn alarm when activated. According to Hyundai Motor America product planning manager Trevor Lai, Hyundai “dreamt up” their back seat reminder system back in “2015.”
Other automakers like Nissan, General Motors Co. (GM), Subaru, and Kia also have their own versions of rear-seat reminders, with and without motion detection. Of all the companies, GM was the first to implement this type of system into its models in 2017.
Though hot car technology is far from its beginning stages, adding it to vehicles still takes time. Hyundai just announced that by 2022, it will make its nondetective reminder system—the Rear Occupant Alert (ROA)—standard for most models.
Waiting for Legislative Approval
While technology takes time to integrate, passing legislation that mandates it is a process just as slow.
Currently, two bills sit in federal government awaiting legislative approval: The Hot Cars Act of 2019 — one for the House and one for the Senate. Both acts mark a second attempt at making lifesaving vehicular heatstroke technology mandatory for all cars.
After the failure of the Hot Cars Acts of 2017, KidsandCars.org worked alongside other child and pet safety advocate groups like the American Public Health Association and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Their goal was to reintroduce the bills to the House of Representatives and the Senate in hopes of passing one of them.
Of the two bills under legislative review, Rollins isn’t afraid to state her preference for the House bill than the one in the Senate.
Though both bills require that all automakers integrate reminder systems into all models following its passage, they vary in the kind of technology deemed necessary. The House’s Hot Cars Act calls for an in-car reminder system that visually and audibly prompts the driver to check the backseat before exiting the vehicle, as well as a rear seat motion detection system. Comparatively, the Senate’s Hot Cars Act only demands the former—which Rollins doesn’t think is enough.
So far, both Hot Cars Acts have yet to be approved by their first round of legislative entities. Though they have a long way to go, the possibility of passage still stands, especially for the Senate version. In July, a committee voted to present the Senate bill to the full chamber for further consideration.
Needless to say, things are looking up. Only 1 in 4 bills are ordered out of committee.
A Common Ground
While Rollins and other child safety advocates believe automakers hold full responsibility of preventing hot car tragedies, automakers seem to think otherwise.
In creating their respective ROA systems, Hyundai’s “intent wasn’t necessarily to completely prevent, but instead to mitigate where we can,” says Lai.
But in spite of conflict between child safety advocates like Rollins and automakers, both seem to agree that the process of developing and implementing hot car technology in all models is one that requires a great deal of patience.
Like Lai, Rollins is aware the far-reaching implications of the two reminder systems will not yield any immediate results. “Technology [and the legislation mandating its standardization] is not going to stop hot car deaths tomorrow,” she says.
Regardless, auto-industry members and child safety advocates remain hopeful their respective efforts will reduce the number of hot car deaths in the years to come.