Advanced technology that reminds parents to check the back seat could significantly reduce the number of children who suffer serious injury or death due to heatstroke. Although hundreds of children have lost their lives to heatstroke in hot cars in the past two decades, the technology is not yet available on all vehicles. Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make this reminder system standard equipment on all vehicles.
More than 800 children died from heatstroke after being left behind in hot cars since the 1990s, according to KidsandCars.org. This doesn’t include the 29 children who passed away in the first seven months of 2017, which is a record high.
Why Cars Heat Up
The temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in minutes due to the greenhouse effect, even if the windows are cracked. In mild temperatures of 60 degrees, children have passed away from heatstroke because of this effect.
The shortwave radiation the sun emits is absorbed by the dark elements in the vehicle, like the dashboard, and is converted into heat. The windows and the chassis of the vehicle act as an insulator, which means the heat cannot escape. It can take just 20 minutes for the temperature in a car to rise to 109 degrees, even when it’s only 80 degrees out.
According to medical professionals, 104 degrees is the body temperature at which they start to diagnose heatstroke. Death can occur when the body reaches 107 degrees and beyond.
Children are more susceptible to temperature changes because their central nervous system is not fully developed. A child's body temperature can also increase five times faster than an adult's, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The technology to remind parents to check the rear seat of the vehicle is already available. While the 2017 GMC Acadia is currently the only vehicle to come equipped with an alert system reminding the driver to check the rear seat, a number of other companies are developing similar systems.
Lawmakers, safety advocates, and parents assert that vehicles already have a number of alerts, including reminders for seatbelts and alerts for open doors. Introducing an auditory or visual alert to remind people to check their back seats should be simple and mandatory.
If passed, the HOT CARS Act of 2017 will reduce the risk of hot car deaths by making rear seat alert systems standard equipment on all cars.