• Jul 14th 2014 at 6:29PM
  • 90
Cars come equipped with alarms that remind motorists to buckle their seatbelts, chimes that indicate headlights are still on after the engine is turned off and buzzers that sound if keys are left in the ignition, says Janette Fennell. Forget a sleeping child in the rear seats, however, and drivers are on their own.

Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children's traffic safety, is trying to change that. The group filed a petition Monday with the White House, asking the federal government to provide funds for research and development of technology that can detect a child left in the rear seat of a vehicle.

An average of 38 children die each year in the United States from vehicular heatstroke. More than half of the deaths occur after parents inadvertently leave children in the car. So far in 2014, there have been 17 such deaths in the US, according to Kids and Cars. The most recent came last week in Ridgefield, CT, and July is historically the month when vehicular-heatstroke deaths are most likely to occur.

An average of 38 children die each year in the United States from vehicular heatstroke.

In a high-profile case from Georgia that occurred last month, authorities have charged Justin Ross Harris with murder in the death of his two-year-old son, Cooper, who perished after spending several hours in the back of a car while his father worked. Cobb County district attorney Vic Reynolds (pictured above) said Justin Harris researched hot-car deaths on his computer in the weeks before the incident occurred.

But cases involving criminal intent are rare. Kids and Cars has examined more than 670 vehicular heatstroke deaths of the past 20 years, with the vast majority involve caring parents and caregivers who made one tragic mistake, often when an everyday routine was interrupted.

"These memory errors are committed by normal, attentive and loving parents," says David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who studies memory. "Many of these parents had believed that they could never forget their children, until their children died."

Two years ago, the Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia studied a smattering of new technologies designed to remind drivers about rear-seat occupants and child-seat occupants. It concluded such devices were "inconsistent and reliable in their performance." Among the problems, the devices interfered with other electronic devices, didn't function in the presence of liquids and often worked only with precise positioning of a child in the restraint. "The devices require considerable effort from the parent/caregiver to ensure smooth operation, and often that operation is not consistent," the study's authors wrote.

In the petition, Kids and Cars asks the Obama administration to provide funding for researching new technology, to identify feasible and effective solutions and to require installation of the technology in all vehicles, or alternatively, all child safety seats. The petition must collect 100,000 signatures by August 13 to ensure the White House staff will review it and send it to the Department of Transportation.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      As hard as it is to hear, 38 deaths out of 74.3 million children is insignificant. If people want to get excited about children dying than consider near 700 will die from homicide.
      • 1 Year Ago
      No. Just say no. Stupidity cannot be fixed by regulation.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Stop. Stop making automakers add stuff to cars to make up for stupidity and bad parenting which adds us normal people cost. Why are people so afraid or ashamed to admit the human race is flawed. Point the finger at people for once.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'm not going to criticize technology that might save a helpless baby's life from a parent's idiocy, but ... maybe it would be better to optionally build the technology into the children's car seats, rather than burden each and every car new with it?
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      Better parenting would help.
      Car Guy
      • 1 Year Ago
      Far more children down in bath tubs each year. Are we going to require sensors on those? At what point do we say "STOP!" to more costly regulations that have very little benefit?
      • 1 Year Ago
      How can the White House force stupid parents to not be stupid or not have kids they can't take care of at all?
      • 1 Year Ago
      Todays parents are to self involved.
      • 1 Year Ago
      How come parents didn't leave their kids in the car years ago? The problem starts with us. People who shouldn't have kids having kids. Now we need a device to remind parents about a kid in the back seat???? are you kidding me? What is wrong with this world? How come this doesn't happen in other countries? Can anybody explain it??
        • 1 Year Ago
        Good question. I would have said that the rate has always been high, that we're just hearing about every incident everyday thanks to digital media. But then I looked it up. Check out the chart in this link on child vehicular hyperthermia deaths by year: http://www.sott.net/article/247914-Child-hot-car-deaths-more-common-than-expected-say-experts Assuming that this chart is accurate, the hot car death rate was significantly lower before 1998. the only theory that I have is that perhaps parents are more distracted, perhaps due to the prevalence of cell phones.
      Revis Goodworth
      • 1 Year Ago
      Punishment for parents who leave children to die in cars is to sentence the parent to the same time they left their child in the car. If the parent survives he/she won't do it again. If he/she dies, they won't do it again. The last thing we know is King Pimple of a Man to interject himself - one of the dead children could have been one of his own (like they'd be left alone PERIOD).
      • 1 Year Ago
      Absolutely absurd. YOU CAN'T FIX STUPID. People are already thinking less while driving because we're taking the responsibility away from them and giving it to the car. Does that make sense?? The child is the person's responsibility, not the cars (or the car manufacturer because we ALL know they will get blamed and sued when it goes bad). Enough is enough.
      Basil Exposition
      • 1 Year Ago
      I think the ideal scenario would be to make this an integrated part of the car seat, not the car. This way people without kids don't have to pay for a device they will never use and parents with older cars can still benefit from the device. Make it required that all car seat manufacturers include it. It could be a battery powered weight detector in the seat that communicates wirelessly with a corresponding dongle that is inserted into the switched cigarette lighter. Any time the car is turned off and weight is detected in the seat, and alarm sounds and cannot be silenced until the weight is removed or the car is turned back on.
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