Proposed legislation could prevent hot car deaths
Washington DC has seen a bill introduced into Congress that would require Original Equipment Manufacturers to fit backseat reminder alerts into new vehicles in two years’ time, as a safety device designed to prevent children being forgotten in vehicle backseats in hot weather. A safety feature that could make it to the Australian market.
The Brilliant Backseat Reminder System (RVS-BLB) is a moderate alarm system that activates when the back door is opened for longer than three seconds before a trip and activates the vehicle horn after 40 seconds of stopping the vehicle having been activated. The button for switching off the alarm is in the back seat to provide a visual reminder of ‘cargo’ left behind. The device is sold by Rear View Safety, an aftermarket reversing camera company and road safety advocate.
The legislation has been supported by Rear View Safety after 40 heatstroke deaths occurred in the U.S. in 2015-16, with a nation-wide average of 37 deaths per year. It’s believed the bi-partisan Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS) will alert drivers of passenger vehicles not to forget rear-seat occupants, often children or animals, in the same way key fob, headlight and seat belt reminders are standard fare today.
US Department of Transport will issue the requirement in two years to coincide with the mandating of reversing cameras in all new passenger vehicles sold from 2018 onward, if the bill passes, which it is expected to.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, one of three who introduced the bill on September 15, said the devastating mistake of leaving children behind in hot cars is a trend going the wrong way and needs immediate action.
“These are horrible preventable tragedies,” she said. “The technology exists to prevent these deaths. You get a warning if you forget your keys in the ignition. You should get a warning if you forget your child is in the back seat. The HOT CARS act calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require that new vehicles alert drivers when there’s an unattended passenger. We must act quickly before more children die.”
Janette Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org, said the problem won’t fix itself.
“Children will continue to die in hot cars unless something is done to help our overtaxed brains,” she pleaded in a statement. “We certainly wish we could train our memories to ‘never forget’, but this is a very human condition we all live with.”
Dr. David Diamond, a psychology professor at University of South Florida said the problem isn’t always to blame on ‘irresponsible parents’ or a lack of love and care.
“The one aspect which is not a factor is that these children were not forgotten by parents who were reckless with regard to care for their children,” he said, “this morning day phenomenon must be explained from a brain science perspective, not one that blames parents for being negligent.”
“We must have a system that provides a reminder to parents of the presence of a child in the backseat for that rare occasion when a child’s life is in danger because parents, for no fault of their own, lose awareness of the presence of their child in the car,” Diamond continued.
In Victoria, under section 494 it is an offence to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. The penalty is a $3,690 fine or a maximum jail sentence of six months, but currently there are no safety devices in new cars sold in Australia that alert the driver of unattended ‘cargo’, ie children or pets, in the vehicle’s rear seats. Rear seatbelt reminders are common across most new cars sold, but do not alert drivers when the child occupant has been left unattended in the seat.
Last year, Western Australia’s RAC received nearly 550 callouts to unlock children trapped in vehicles unattended, 125 during summer. Also last year in Victoria, The Age reported paramedics were called to 1531 children locked in vehicles over an 11-month period – over 370 were babies freed from hot vehicles by emergency crews. Eight of these incidents required hospitalisation. The NRMA rescued over 2000 children left unattended in 2014-15, an average of five per day.
Download the Kids in Hot Cars factsheet here.