A week after the tragic death of my 15-month old son on July 7, 2014, I began researching - everything and anything - and thinking. For the first time, I started learning about the information presented on this web-page. Here is what I found -

The Facts:

- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Not-in-Traffic Surveillance (NiTS) data shows that hyperthermia (heatstroke) is the #1 cause of death in non-crash fatalities for children under the age of 15.[1] Studies show that the temperature in a parked car (with ambient temperatures between 72 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit) rises on average 19 degrees in 10 minutes, 29 degrees in 20 minutes and 45 - 50 degrees in 1 - 2 hours. A child's body temperature rises 3 - 5 times faster than an adults; heatstroke occurs when a person's body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit, while a core body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit or higher can result in death.[2] 

- 111 child heatstroke deaths in vehicles have been reported in the last 3 years, representing a eight-fold increase over the 3-year period of 1990-92[3] before overpowered airbags were being installed, leading experts to recommend (and many states to require[4]) child car seats be moved to the back seat of vehicles and, even further, that certain infant seats be pivoted to the rear-facing position.  Since 2000, an average of 38 children have died annually, with a high of 49 in 2010 alone.[5]

- In the past 20 years, more than 670 children have died from heatstroke in vehicles.[6] The number of children dying from preventable vehicle-related injuries has dramatically decreased in the last two decades, while the number of heatstroke deaths has dramatically increased.[7]

- Data shows that the majority (54%) of vehicle heatstroke deaths are caused by a caregiver accidentally leaving the child in a vehicle.[8] For more information on theories of how this memory lapse occurs, please see the following press release: Memory and Brain Expert Addresses Federal Government, News Release, KidsAndCars.org. 

According to a survey of 1,000 parents and caregivers conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington, D.C., 11% of parents (based on U.S. population, that number is projected to be more than 1.5 million parents transporting more than 2.6 million children) say they have forgotten their child in a car. For those with children age 3 and under, it is nearly 25%. (See "New Study: 14% of Parents Say They Have Left A Child Alone Inside Parked Vehicle Despite the Risks of Heatstroke," Safe Kids Worldwide, April 29, 2014)

- From 2003-2013, KidsAndCars.org documented 5,697 children that were left alone in a vehicle or entered a vehicle on their own, but survived. It is very important to note that this is a drastic underestimate of the actual number of children that are left alone in vehicles. If the child is not seriously injured or killed, the incident is not likely to be reported in any way, which makes it very difficult to determine how often this is actually occurring.

- Experts have suggested that appropriate reminder devices or alert systems (similar to headlight or seatbelt alerts) in vehicles could alleviate most, if not all, of such heatstroke events. 

History:

1. According to representatives at KidsAndCars.org and various news sources, the following provision was stripped out of the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007 before it was introduced, for fear it couldn't get past the powerful automobile manufacturers' lobby: “Driver Reminder System - Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall issue regulations applicable to all light passenger vehicles requiring a system of driver notification or reminder system once the ignition switch is in the off position if passengers remain in any of the rear seating positions of the vehicle.”

2. After urging from safety experts (see NBC Today Show segment, August 4, 2010), in 2011 NHTSA initiated a study to assess the efficacy of then-existing technology that was designed to prevent children up to 24 months from being left behind in closed, parked vehicles. After choosing three devices to study out of the 18 concepts presented (7 of which had not been brought to market at the time of the study), NHTSA published its report in 2012, concluding that these devices (containing sensing technology and not requiring vehicle integration) were too inconsistent and unreliable in their performance at the time.[9] According to the segment and other sources, at the same time, safety experts were lobbying to include legislation in an upcoming transportation bill, with efforts ultimately resulting in a less stringent requirement in MAP-21, Section 31504 - Unattended Passenger Reminders (referenced in paragraph 4 below).

3. In 2011, NHTSA also convened a roundtable discussion involving certain interested parties. The results of these discussions were described in a NY Times article by Paul Stenquist, titled A Safety Roundtable, Diverging Strategies for Preventing Child Hyperthermia in Cars, July 27, 2011). According to safety experts, the take-away from the roundtable discussion was that a focus on education was needed (versus technological innovation) with a theme of "zero heatstroke deaths in 2013." NHTSA went on to initiate the “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” campaign in 2012.[10] However, 44 children died from heatstroke in 2013.

4. On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which contained the following provision: 

SEC. 31504. Unattended Passenger Reminders

(a)   Safety Research Initiative.--The Secretary may initiate research into effective ways to minimize the risk of hyperthermia or hypothermia to children or other unattended passengers in rear seating positions.

(b) Research Areas.--In carrying out subsection (a), the Secretary may conduct research into the potential viability of--

            (1) vehicle technology to provide an alert that a child or unattended passenger remains in a rear seating position after the vehicle motor is disengaged; or

            (2) public awareness campaigns to educate drivers on the risks of leaving a child or unattended passenger in a vehicle after the vehicle motor is disengaged; or

            (3) other ways to mitigate risk.

    (c) Coordination With Other Agencies.--The Secretary may collaborate with other Federal agencies in conducting the research under this section.

As of September 1, 2014 NHTSA has NOT publicly responded to indicate how, if at all, it is acting on this initiative. 

5. For more information on the history of auto industry technological innovation, see Safety Challenge for Auto Manufacturers and Government Leaders.

6. After a rash of child heatstroke deaths in 2014 (24 as of September 1, 2014), various legislators, other government officials and non-profit organizations are calling for an enhanced public awareness campaign (see Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Murphy (D-Conn.) Letter to Acting Administrator of NHTSA, July 11, 2014) and/or analysis of possible options (including technological solutions) to stem the rising tide of child heatstroke deaths in the future. 

What You Can Do:

Look Before You Lock - 

NHTSA and KidsAndCars.org urge parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke incidents from occurring:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away;
  • Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn't show up for care as expected;
  • Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a phone, purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver's view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and
  • Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child's reach.

Advocate for Discussion (See Advocacy: Ideas and Progress)

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Footnotes:

[1]  See Motor Vehicle Safety Fact Sheet (2013), Safe Kids Worldwide; Traffic Safety Facts, Crash Stats: Notin‐Traffic Surveillance (NiTS) 2007‐Children, NHTSA, July 2009).

[2] See Jan Null, CCM, Heat Stroke Deaths of Children in VehiclesDept. of Earth & Climate Sciences, San Francisco State University (see also Catherine McLaren, MD, Jan Null, CCM, and James Quinn, MD, Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed VehiclesPediatrics Vol. 116 No. 1, July 1, 2005); Heatstroke: Leaving Kids Alone in Hot Cars - Know the Risks and Consequences, safercar.gov.

[3] KidsAndCars.org Database; see also Jan Null, CCM, Vehicular Child Fatalities: Passenger Side Airbags and Heatstroke, Dept. of Earth & Climate Sciences, San Francisco State University.

[4] See Safety Belts, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, July 2014. 

[5] See Child Vehicular Heat Stroke Summary, KidsAndCars.org.

[6] KidsAndCars.org Database.

[7] See Child Nontraffic Fatalities by Year, KidsAndCars.org National Statistics.

[8] See Child Vehicular Heat Stroke SummaryKidsAndCars.org. Another 32% were caused by a child getting into the vehicle by him or herself, with only 12% being caused by the caregiver intentionally leaving the child in the car (e.g., to go into the grocery store).

[9] To read full results of study, see Reducing the Potential for Heat Stroke to Children in Parked Motor Vehicles: Evaluation of Reminder Technology, U.S. DOT, NHTSA.

[10] See NHTSA Unveils Campaign to Prevent Child Heatstroke Deaths in Cars, April 3, 2012; NHTSA Urges Parents and Caregivers to Think 'Where's Baby? Look Before You LockMay 6, 2014.