Advocates renew calls for rule to require technology that prevents hot car deaths

Written by on June 26, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — Across the street from the Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., advocates working to prevent the deaths of children in hot cars recently hung 1,086 colorful infant onesies underneath a tree — the display representing the number of children’s lives lost in hot cars since 1990, according to the advocacy organization Kids and Car Safety.

As another hot summer begins, advocates are renewing their call for federal regulators to require technology in cars that they say can help prevent child deaths.

Three children have already died in hot cars in 2024, and an average of 38 children die in hot cars each year, according to Kids and Car Safety.

Although the technology has grown more advanced, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) missed deadlines set by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act requiring the agency to issue a rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles weighing under 10,000 pounds to be equipped with a system to alert the driver to check the back seat after the car is turned off, Kids and Car Safety said.

According to the advocacy group, NHTSA missed the December 2022 deadline to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the November 2023 deadline to issue a final rule.

“They had two years to look at what technology is out there and to come up with a final rule. Well, it’s almost a year past that deadline, and they still haven’t even issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, told ABC News.

The new deadline for NHTSA to issue the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is August 2024.

In a statement to ABC News, NHTSA said, in part, that it’s “exploring exceeding congressional requirements by evaluating a full range of options that could more effectively address the issue of hot car deaths.”

NHTSA said it is initiating rulemaking that would require vehicles to have a system that reminds the driver to check the back seat at the end of a drive, analyzing more sophisticated technology that would detect and alert parents if a child is in the back seat, and assessing the one rear seat occupant detection system the agency has acquired. The agency said it will continue to test other systems as they become publicly available and is looking into retrofitting existing cars with rear-seat alert systems.

There are currently two types of technology available in vehicles: end-of-trip reminders and occupant detection. The occupant detection has sensors that can detect movements or heartbeats of occupants in the back seat and alert the driver. Some can even differentiate between the heartbeats of a child and an adult. The end-of-trip reminder alerts the driver to check the back seat before exiting the vehicle but does not acknowledge if there is a human being in the back.

Kids Car and Safety said it finds the occupant detection system to be the most effective.

The occupant detection and alert technology is currently available in vehicles made by Hyundai and Kia and costs around $20, according to a 2023 report commissioned by NHTSA.

If NHTSA passes a rule, and depending on what NHTSA requires, automakers would have to include it in all car models.

Until a new rule is passed by NHTSA — and the technology is not required in all cars for occupant detection — Rollins shared a few tips for drivers to ensure safety for kids in cars:

  • Always keep the car doors locked.
  • Be extra cautious when there’s a change in routine.
  • Keep a stuffed animal toward the front area of your car as a visual reminder.
  • Place an item you can’t start your day without in the back seat to help you remember to look at the back before leaving or come back in case you forget.
  • Childproof the car doors and put stick-on alarms on them so a child cannot get inside the vehicle without your knowledge.

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