The hearts of the Northland and nation can go out to the grieving family and loved ones of the boys, who apparently got into the car on their own and weren’t able to get out. It was an 85-degree day, meaning temperatures inside the vehicle likely climbed above 125 degrees, as the News Tribune reported. The boys were found 90 minutes after being reported missing, both unresponsive.
In addition to mourning, Northlanders and the nation can join the years-long cries for safety improvements in vehicles meant to prevent such tragedies. Every year, 38 children on average die from heatstroke inside hot cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The worst year was 2018 when 53 children perished. The little boy from Hibbing was one of three children who overheated and died in a hot car last week alone, as Kids and Car Safety, a national database and advocacy group, reported. He was the 13th in the U.S. this year.
Encouragingly, years of talking about solutions are turning into action. Included in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Senate last week is a mandate to begin installing reminders in new cars — whether a chime or voice or some other alert — to check the backseat every time the engine is shut off.
Discouragingly, that technology doesn’t go far enough. As Kids and Car Safety pointed out in a statement to the media, including to the News Tribune Opinion page, it “would NOT have saved the Hibbing boy’s life.”
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“Language passed by the U.S. House of Representatives is truly what is needed,” the group’s president and founder, Janette Fennell, argued, referring to the Hot Cars Act, which includes equipment that would actually detect when a child is left inside a car or enters a vehicle on their own. “Occupant detection … is absolutely necessary to save lives. Without occupant detection, children and pets will continue to die in hot cars.”
In April, the Federal Communications Commission approved requests from Tesla and five automotive suppliers to begin developing “radar-based systems that could detect children or pets left in the back seat and then send an alert,” presumably to a smartphone or authorities, as NBC News reported.
That means, “We have the chance to finally end these senseless deaths,” as Fennell further stated. “How can we possibly stand by and let another 1,000 families bury a child when cost-effective solutions are readily available?”
In the words of Kids and Car Safety, “Hot car deaths continue to take place because nobody believes this could happen to them.”
The likelihood of the tragedies will only increase when the world reopens following the pandemic, when children need to be driven to school and child care again, and parents head back to workplaces. Technology to prevent horrific, heart-wrenching deaths demands to be immediately developed and put in use.