TEXAS VIEW: Will rear seat reminders prevent child hot car deaths?

THE POINT: An alarm system will become standard in 2025, but Texas parents must remain vigilant.

Texans have been hearing a lot about the dangers of the scorching and humid heat this summer, particularly for workers outdoors.

Now imagine being trapped in a hot car.

Every year, dozens of children in the U.S. die after being left in a hot car, mostly by accident. Texas is the leading state for such deaths, with a horrible tally of 146 such fatalities over a 32-year period going back to 1990, according to Kids and Car Safety, an advocacy group. Florida follows with 111 deaths, and California with 65.

If you’re wondering how a parent could possibly forget their child in the car, don’t be so quick to judge. The record shows this happens even to caring, loving parents, perhaps on a day when they are distracted by stress or too tired to remember a change in their routine.

The worst thing parents can do, according to child advocates, is to assume this could never happen to them.

An alarm system that warns drivers to check their rear seats is already a feature in many vehicles. The 2021 infrastructure bill will make it mandatory for all cars to have one. The Department of Transportation will issue a rule by this fall, and the alarm system is expected to become a standard feature by the 2025 model year.

Some cars have more sophisticated technology that can detect motion in the backseat, but the federal requirement will be an alarm system only. So while an alarm feature will probably save lives, it’s unrealistic to expect it will stop all hot car deaths. Some drivers may become desensitized to it with time.

We’re grateful that lawmakers and federal authorities are thinking about this problem, but it’s up to caregivers and passersby to remain vigilant. According to Dallas Fire-Rescue, it only takes a few minutes for the interior of a vehicle to reach life-threatening temperatures.

First responders urge parents to follow some commonsense advice: Never leave your children or pet in the car alone, no matter how long you plan to be away. Make it a habit to check your backseat every time you get out, and if it helps, leave your purse, laptop bag or other items in the back to give you a reason to look there every time. Keep your vehicles locked, including in the garage, to avoid a situation where children may go in the car to hide and play.

Dallas Fire-Rescue recommends that passersby who see a child or pet alone in a car call 911 immediately.

“If needed a 911 dispatcher can instruct you on the best way to care for that person until first responders arrive,” the agency told us via email.

The possibility of forgetting a child in a hot car is so horrific we might want to push the thought away. But for our children’s sake, we have to remember the risk so we can prevent it.

The Dallas Morning News