Language from a bill known as the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (or HOT CARS Act) has been approved by the United States House of Representatives. The HOT CARS Act requires auto manufacturers to include an alarm reminding drivers to check the back seat of their vehicles, ideally leading to a decrease in the number of deaths caused by inadvertently leaving children in the back seat.
The HOT CARS Act was initially introduced in the Energy and Commerce Committee in June, but language from the bill was passed on September 6 as an amendment to the DECAL Act, which seeks to inform consumers about the capabilities and limitations of self-driving cars.
The amendment concerning children left in hot cars says that within two years of the bill becoming law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must issue a rule requiring automakers to include an alarm that will alert drivers to check the rear seat when they turn off the engine. Auto manufacturers would then have two years to comply with the rule.
Children dying in hot cars is a serious issue, and one that has been getting more attention lately. Some vehicle manufacturers, like General Motors, are already putting safeguards in place (as are some car seat companies, like Evenflo). This regulation would force other auto manufacturers to follow suit.
While this bill is a step in the right direction for protecting children from accidental deaths, there’s still a long way to go. First, the bill will need to pass the U.S. Senate. If it does, it will then need to be signed into law by a president who has signaled a resistance to new regulations.
If the bill does become law, the regulation will need to actually be enacted–a process that is often met with challenges, changes, and delays.
We have questions about how these proposed alarms will work. If an alarm chimes each time the car is turned off (as is suggested in the language of the bill), people are more likely to ignore it or otherwise tune it out, especially once they get used to hearing it. Falling into a routine is exactly the problem these alarms should be trying to solve; they shouldn’t be contributing to it. A system like GM’s, where the alarm sounds only if the back door had been opened and shut prior to the car moving, seems more likely to be effective since it has a better chance of catching people specifically when they have a child onboard.
Even under the best scenarios, this regulation is still years away from becoming reality.
There are benefits and downfalls to relying on technology or gadgets to help keep caregivers from forgetting children in the car. People can always take precautions on their own, though. We recommend that people put an item they’ll need at their destination (like a phone, a purse, or a shoe) in the back seat so they’ll need to open that back door and see the child inside.
Legislation might eventually help, but it’s a long road.