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Hot car deaths of children prompt car alert legislation

File photo

File photo

A one-year-old boy in Texas died this week in the back his mother’s car, becoming the 30th child in the United States this year to succumb to heatstroke while left behind in a car seat, according to the advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.

As in many of other hot-car-related deaths, the Texas mother, an attorney, thought she had dropped her son off at daycare before she went to work, according to police in Dayton, a city about 30 miles northeast of Houston.

The baby was still in the rear-facing seat when she showed up at the day care center to pick him up, according to the police report.

The Dayton Police Department said Friday it is conducting a full investigation.

Can hot car deaths be prevented?

“Our society if so busy today, there is so much going on with parents running from here to there,” US Rep. Tim Ryan said Thursday as he sponsored legislation requiring car makers to address the problem of children left in vehicles.

Under the Hot Cars Act of 2016, all new passenger vehicles would need to be equipped with technology to alert drivers if a child is left in the backseat.

“When we have a technology to solve a problem, then we have to push it out into the private sector,” Ryan said.

This summer, General Motors said it will install a warning a tone and reminder message in the speedometer of all 2017 Acadias that says “Look in Rear Seat.” GM plans to introduce the feature on other four-door GM models in the future.

“We have no current requirement for cars to have this simple feature that will save lives of children across the US. This is inexcusable,” Ryan tweeted.

‘Walking around like zombies’

According to KidsAndCars.org, 37 children die each year because they were trapped in a hot vehicle.

Parents need reminders that a child is in the backseat, because stress and sleep deprivation can cause the brain of a parent to revert to habits and forget plans they may have made to drop children off at day care, says Dr. David Diamond, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who has studied fatal memory errors involving children in cars for the past 12 years.

“What’s very clear to me is that these children were not forgotten by parents that were reckless with regard to care for their children,” he said.

Education alone will not solve the problem, because young parents are sleep-deprived, said Janette Fennell, the founder of KidsAndCars.org.

“We’re walking around like zombies,” she said. “Car companies must step up to protect their most vulnerable passengers.”