Most passenger cars made in the U.S. by 2025 will have alerts designed to keep children from being accidentally left in hot cars, according to an agreement among groups representing many of the largest automakers.
That is welcome news because every death of a child left in a car is a preventable tragedy.
On average, 38 children under the age of 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle, according to No Heat Stroke, a project of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University. In 2018, a record number of 53 children died after being left in hot cars. As of October 1, 46 had died in 2019, including 1-year-old twins in New York.
Even with the windows cracked, the temperature in a closed car can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in minutes, the KidsandCars.org safety advocacy group says.
The agreement between the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to add child alerts includes nearly every carmaker that serves the U.S. market, according to Car and Driver magazine. They include:
- Fiat Chrysler
- General Motors
- Jaguar Land Rover
Kia, General Motors, Nissan and Subaru already offer back-seat reminder systems on many of their vehicles, and Hyundai is to offer one by 2022, Car and Driver says.
“Under this commitment, automakers will help address this problem by introducing a wide range of approaches to help parents and caregivers remember to check the back seat as they leave a vehicle,” the Association of Global Automakers said. “At a minimum, these prompts will include a combination of auditory and visual alerts that will activate after a driver turns off the vehicle.”
The announced agreement comes as Congress considers the Hot Cars Act of 2019 (H.R. 3593 and S.B. 1601). The pieces of legislation call for the development of a rule within two years of adoption to require an audible, visual and tactile warning in all new passenger vehicles if an occupant is detected in the rear of a parked car.
A spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers trade group told Consumer Reports that automakers are acting ahead of the passage of legislation to speed up the process. If a law were to be enacted, federal rule-making could take five to eight years to be finalized, which would be required before compliant technology could be developed.
However, the KidsandCars.org safety advocacy group rejects the auto groups’ voluntary agreement to install rear-seat occupant warnings, saying it is voluntary and inadequate in its scope. The advocacy group wants technology installed during the manufacturing stage of all vehicles, as the Hot Cars Act would provide, and to be able to detect the presence of a child inside the vehicle at any time.
Technology already available to prevent hot car deaths utilizes a wide range of detection features, including sensors that detect motion, carbon dioxide, weight, vital signs, temperature, door sequencing, etc., KidsandCars.org says.
Children Left in Cars and Heatstroke Risk
An examination of media reports about the 795 pediatric vehicular heatstroke (PVH) deaths from 1998 through 2018 shows the following circumstances:
- 53.8% were forgotten by a caregiver (429 children)
- 26.2% entered the vehicle on their own (209)
- 18.9% were purposely left by a caregiver (151)
- 1% are of unknown/unpublished circumstances (8).
These children ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years old. More than half of the children who died (54%) were younger than 2 years of age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that heat stroke can happen when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough, and a child left in a hot car can die of heat stroke very quickly.
A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s does. A child’s major organs begin to shut down when his temperature reaches 104 degrees. A child can die when his or her temperature reaches 107 degrees.
Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees, and children have died from heatstroke in cars in temps as low as 60 degrees.
Hot Car Deaths in New York State
There have been eight PVH deaths in New York since 1998, according to No Heat Stroke, with the two latest being the deaths of 1-year-old twins Luna and Phoenix Rodriguez in the Bronx on July 26, 2019. Their father, Juan Rodriguez, forgot to drop them off at day care and left them in his car as he completed a full shift of work.
The day the Rodriguez children died, the ambient temperature rose to 86 degrees, according to the New York Times. “When the twins were found, their body temperature was 108 degrees; their organs had failed after several hours strapped inside the sedan, according to the medical examiner.”
Rodriguez has been charged with two counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and endangerment of a child. He has pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.
New York does not have a law specifically making it a crime to leave a child unattended in a car. Prosecutors told The City in the wake of the Rodriguez deaths that it is not a given that an adult responsible for a PVH will be charged.
According to The City, “Of the nine similar cases in New York state since 1990, criminal charges have been brought in four of them, according to the group KidsandCars.org … Some of those criminal cases had extenuating circumstances, including parents found possessing drugs. The same pattern holds true nationally.”
KidsandCars.org is urging the Bronx DA to drop the charges against Rodriguez, according to The City. Sue Auriemma, KidsandCars.org’s vice president, said research shows that overwhelmed caregivers can accidentally forget young children in the back seat.
What Can Be Done About Children in Hot Cars?
In 2018, the National Safety Council (NSC) released a groundbreaking report about pediatric vehicular heatstroke titled, Kids in Hot Cars; a Legislative Look Across the U.S. Among the objectives of the report were to support stronger laws to protect children from being left unattended in vehicles, increase understanding of vehicle heating dynamics, and encourage policies for childcare providers.
Among the report’s recommendations are:
- Take action immediately if you see an unattended child in a vehicle
- Childcare providers should implement policies to ensure all children exit a facility vehicle upon arrival at their destination
- Prevention measures should be implemented at workplaces.
The NSC recommends that a member of the public who sees a child unattended in a car:
- Immediately phone 9-1-1
- Get the child out of the car and spray the child with water to help cool them down, if the child appears in distress
- Stay with the child until help arrives
- Ask someone else to search for the driver.
There are 21 states with “Good Samaritan Laws” that have specific language to protect people who see a child in a car and take action to render assistance. New York is not among them.
Who Is Responsible for a Child’s Hot Car Death?
If a child has died or been seriously injured because he or she was left in a vehicle while in the care of a negligent adult who is not the parent, the responsible person and/or institution may be held liable. Liability for a hot car death or injury may include civil liability, which means owing compensation to the child’s family for monetary and personal losses.
A Long Island child accident attorney from Cohen & Jaffe can help you seek full compensation for your child’s injury and its impact on your family. Governmental agencies such as school districts have certain protections and notification requirements regarding legal claims, which we can help you meet.
Contact us today to meet with a Cohen & Jaffe attorney and discuss your legal options. There is no charge for a legal consultation and claim evaluation.