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HOT CARS Act of 2016 aims to prevent tragic children fatalities

As a 21-month-old boy in Texas died from heat stroke after being left in a roasting car last month, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., were presenting legislation that could have prevented his death.

The HOT CARS Act of 2016 was introduced to Congress on Sept. 15. The legislation was proposed to prevent child heatstroke deaths by getting new technology into vehicles.

Nearly 800 children have died as a result of being trapped in a hot car since 1990. On average, 37 children die per year from being left in a hot vehicle, according to KidsAndCars.org.

Leaving a child in a car, even in the absence of extreme heat, can have deadly consequences. (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock)

Under the HOT CARS Act, there will be a two-year deadline requiring all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with technology that will alert drivers if a child remains in the backseat.

While the technology currently exists to prevent these horrible tragedies, it isn't widely used.

"You get a warning if you forget your keys in the ignition. You should get a warning if you forget your child in the back seat... We must act quickly before more children die," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th IL), said.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Representatives Tim Ryan (D-13th OH), Peter King (R-2nd NY) and Rep. Schakowsky. It is a bi-partisan effort that gained support from more than 15 of the nation's leading public health, consumer and safety organizations.

"The belief is that it can't happen to you, but it happens to even the most conscientious parents," Rep. King said.

A number of parents have voiced support for the legislation as it could have prevented tragedy within their own family.

"An alert, if implemented a decade ago when this discussion began, could have saved my son's life," Lindsey Rogers-Seitz said.

Rogers-Seitz's son died in a hot car in 2014.

Despite popular belief, especially with the ongoing Justin Ross Harris case, loving and caring parents are typically involved. Rarely does it happen due to unfit care.

Common stressors like a change in routine, lack of sleep or even a simple distraction can have an effect on even the most responsible parents, Dr. David Diamond, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, said.

"This modern day phenomenon must be explained from a brain science perspective, not one that blames parents for being negligent," Dr. Diamond said.

Stress and sleep deprivation can cause a parent's brain to revert to habits and forget about their child in the backseat. This makes it necessary to install technology to warn parents that their child remains in the backseat for rare occasions when a child's life is in danger, Dr. Diamond said.

"Children will continue to die in hot cars unless something is done to help our overtaxed brains. Education alone will not solve this problem," Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org, said.

General Motors said that the company will install a warning tone and reminder message in the speedometer of all 2017 Acadias this summer and plans to introduce this in all four-door vehicles in the future.

Summer may be ending, but this is not a seasonal issue. A child is at risk of overheating if left in a vehicle even in the absence of extreme heat outside, as the temperature inside cars can rise rapidly.

"We have the technology to save a child and spare a family from unimaginable grief and loss; it's now time for action," Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said.

For more information on the legislation, listen to the audio of the media conference call.

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