Technology to End Heat-Related Car Deaths Exists – Let’s Use It

by Terry Bryant

“I hurt my wife so much,” said Miles Harrison, “and by the grace of whatever wonderful quality is within her, she has forgiven me. And that makes me feel even worse. Because I can’t forgive me.”

In 2010, Miles Harrison was featured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post story about a tragedy that is all too common in the United States. Parents, usually through a lapse in memory, leave their children in a car unattended, and the child dies from hyperthermia due to excessive temperatures inside the vehicle. Harrison’s 21-month-old son died in 2008 after he was left unattended in a vehicle.

Stories like Harrison’s are not as rare as they should be. They happen, on average, 37 times every year in the United States. Texas leads the nation in heat-related car deaths. So far in 2017, 7 out of the 16 heat-related car deaths have occurred in our state. The fact that so little has changed since the Washington Post piece seven years ago is that we have the technology to ensure most of these deaths don’t occur.

Solutions for the Problem

As Consumer Reports reported earlier this year, the technology is available, but it’s not mandatory. Lawmakers are hoping to change that through the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats (“HOT CARS”) Act of 2017. The legislation would require manufacturers to include safety features that prevent heat-related car deaths.

Automakers like GM are introducing technologies that will alert drivers leaving the vehicle to the presence of people in the car. GM debuted a safety feature last year on its 2017 GMC Acadia that provides drivers a warning tone and a message on the speedometer to “Look in the Rear Seat.”

Understanding How These Tragedies Happen

One of the leading experts on the issue of heat-related car deaths is Dr. David Diamond. He suggests that while some people might be tempted to think of these deaths as resulting from negligent parenting, it is simply a failing of a person’s memory. Diamond has found that many cases of heat-related car deaths happen when a parent deviates from a normal, everyday routine.

As he wrote in an article last year, many cases involve parents who experience a change in routine, a stressful or distracting event or, sometimes, sleep deprivation. One common phenomenon is that these deviations create a false memory in the mind of a parent that their child is in daycare when they are, in fact, still in the vehicle.

The inside of a vehicle can become deadly very quickly. A vehicle’s internal temperature can reach 125 degrees within minutes. Heatstroke deaths have even been reported in vehicles when external temperatures were as low as 60 degrees.

There’s no reason that these deaths should occur when automakers have access to technology that would prevent them. Recently, Miles Harrison spoke out about the importance of alert systems.

“Every time we hear of another child dying, we relive that horrible day with him over and over again and we ask why—why is this happening when there’s technology available?” he said.

To schedule a free consultation with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, contact us today by filling out our online contact form or giving us a call at 1 (800) 444-5000 or locally in the Houston area at (713) 973-8888.