Congress Considers Mandating Rear Seat Child Alerts

U.S. lawmakers are considering legislation that would require automakers to install technology on all new vehicles that would alert drivers to check for children before exiting a vehicle. If passed, the bill would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to write new rules within two years mandating the introduction of “a distinct auditory and visual alert” to remind drivers to check the back seat. It also calls for a study to assess the feasibility of retrofitting older vehicles with the system.

Lawmakers claim that more than 800 U.S. children have died from heatstroke over the last two decades as a result of being left unattended inside an automobile.

While that averages out to less than the number of U.S. citizens killed by lightning strikes every year, media attention makes these incidents look more prevalent than they actually are. A Florida daycare owner made national news earlier this week after being arrested for leaving an infant in a hot van. However, unlike most lightning strikes, automotive heatstroke is entirely preventable and could be curbed by new safety technologies.

According to Reuters, the proposal is sponsored by a number of lawmakers including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Schakowsky said 48 children perished as a result of heatstroke in cars in 2018. “In the vast majority of those cases, the adult did not realize the child was inside the car. It’s not enough to educate parents about the risks,” she said, adding that most new cars alert drivers when they’ve left their keys in the vehicle and suggesting the same should be true “if you leave a child in the car.”

While education should always be the public’s first line of defense, some cars already do possess systems that can help. General Motors introduced rear-seat reminders in 2016. While the system doesn’t explicitly check for children, it does monitor the vehicle’s rear doors and alerts the driver to check the back seat. The feature activates whenever a rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or if they are opened and closed while the vehicle is already running. When the vehicle is turned off after a door activation, the system sounds five audible chimes and a display message reminder drivers to “Look in Rear Seat.”

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has said it will “carefully review any legislative proposals keeping in mind that fewer than 13 [percent] of new car buyers have a child six years old or younger.” It also said that it takes roughly two decades for new automotive technologies to reach most passenger vehicles, adding, “Greater public awareness saves live today.”

a version of this article first appeared on TTAC

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