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A Preventable Tragedy


We hear almost daily about the record-breaking heat of this summer, and the droughts, wild fires, and health consequences of temperatures regularly reaching into the triple digits. Another danger of this blistering hot weather is a hot car death, where a child left alone in a car dies due to heatstroke. The temperature inside a car rises rapidly, and a child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s; combine these two facts with an outside temperature that often exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and a child left in a car for any length of time will suffer heatstroke.

For example, when the outside temperature ranges from 80 to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172 degrees according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even on cooler days, cars can be lethal traps. There are cases of children dying on days as cool as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because a car’s interior temperature can rise approximately 40 degrees within one hour, even when the exterior temperature is only 72 degrees Fahrenheit, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics 2005 study.

In July 2017, 11 children died in hot car deaths, making it the deadliest July for this type of tragic death in nearly a decade. The average number of children that die each year from being trapped inside hot cars is 37; 29 children have died to date in 2017. The number of children dying in hot cars has spiked since the 1990s when legislation was passed requiring children to sit in the back seat due to juvenile deaths from passenger-side air bags deploying. Children and in particular those in car seats are more easily forgotten when in the back seats of cars.


Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) introduced legislation on July 3, 2017 requiring new cars to come equipped with technology that alerts drivers if a child is left in the back seat once the car is turned off. A similar measure was recently introduced in the House by a bi-partisan group of representatives: Tim Ryan (D-OH), Peter King (R-NY), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). The bill passed out of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee earlier in July.


In addition to the new car technology that is the subject of the pending legislation referenced above, there are several existing technologies on the market right now aimed at preventing hot car deaths. All of these hi-tech assists have a very basic goal: to remind the driver that a child is in the back seat. Below are brief descriptions of four popular technologies:

  1. SensorSafe: this technology is found in some car seat brands; the receiver goes into a car’s diagnostics port and communicates with the car seat’s smart chest clip letting the driver know if a chid is still in the seat after the car is turned off.
  2. GM Rear Seat Reminder: this feature has back door sensors that become activated when either rear door is opened or closed within 10 minutes of the vehicle being started or while the vehicle is running. When the destination is reached, a reminder appears on the dashboard as well as chimes ring to check the rear seat.
  3. Driver’s Little Helper: this sensor system goes under a car seat and is synced with an app to your phone. You can set the app to send you notifications at certain intervals after you stop your car; e.g. you can set the app to send you a reminder to check the back seat two minutes after the car stops. You can also use the app to send you alerts if your child becomes too hot or cold while in the car seat, if your child has escaped the car seat and other dangerous conditions. If you don’t respond to the notifications and alerts, Driver’s Little Helper sends a text and email to your emergency contacts.
  4. Waze: this popular traffic app has a setting that reminds a driver to check the back seat when a destination that is entered into the app is reached.

It is important to remember to layer your protections. Use technologies like those described above, but use some low-tech help, too. Leave a purse, coat or briefcase in the back seat so that you will always check it before locking and leaving the car. If you drop your child off at childcare, request that they call you if your child does not arrive at the scheduled time. Multiple reminders will provide layers of protection against a preventable tragedy such as a hot car death.


If you or someone you know has suffered the loss or injury of a child, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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