A wave of deaths of children left inside hot cars –at least 41 so far this year, a record pace — is sparking pressure from safety advocates for new auto regulations, USA Today reports.
The deaths have coincided with broiling temperatures across many parts of the country. And the heat is intensified inside of a car on a steamy day, where the temperature can leap by more than 40 degrees in a single hour.
This rash of preventable deaths has led to calls for cars to be equipped with alarms notifying distracted parents that children remain in their seats. The alarms could address a major part of the problem — according to USA Today, more than half of such deaths from 1997 to 2001 involved parents unintentionally leaving a child behind.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a petition to include seatbelt reminder chimes for all seats, and safety advocates say including an alarm to prevent children from accidentally being left in a car would be a logical extension of the idea.
“If you’re going to have a reminder system for people to buckle up, why not remind them if they haven’t taken the child out of the seat?” said Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
While it may not be available on the market, the technology for such an alarm already exists, and has for almost a decade. A team from NASA patented such a system in 2001, but they have not scored any contracts with automakers, which express concerns about the alarms’ reliability.
Still, David Strickland, NHTSA’s chief, argues that the best solution isn’t a possibly intrusive and annoying regulation, but rather individual parents showing more responsibility. “While there may be technologies that help remind parents to never leave a child alone in a car, nothing can replace the need for a parent to be vigilant,” he said.