BY AMBER ROLLINS SPECIAL TO THE STAR
AUGUST 13, 2021 05:00 AM
Amber Rollins, director of Kids And Car Safety in Olathe, works to prevent children from dying in cars. STAR FILE PHOTO
Our national nonprofit organization, Kids and Car Safety, which is headquartered in Olathe, has been working to save children’s lives in and around vehicles for nearly two decades. The heartache and devastation that a family experiences after the loss of a child is indescribable.
Since 1990, more than 1,000 children have died in hot cars. Hundreds of pets die this way every year as well. In addition, there have been countless life-altering injuries. Tragically, these needless deaths and injuries continue despite the existence of detection and alert technology to prevent them. It is readily available and inexpensive, costing as little as $10 for the components of the system per new vehicle.
This week, the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill excluded numerous lifesaving vehicle improvements that were included in the INVEST in America Act, the version of the legislation that passed the House. In particular, a provision was omitted in the Senate bill that would require effective detection and alert technology to stop hot car deaths in all new cars. Most of these needless deaths will be of innocent children.
Instead, an inadequate provision requiring cars just to give a reminder to check the back seat, triggered by a rear door being opened before driving, was passed. The serious problem with this type of system are is that it would issue many false alarms when children aren’t in the back seat, thereby rendering the alerts as an irritant or something to be disregarded. It would give families a false sense of security that unattended children will be detected. Additionally, this type of system requires the car to be driven before the reminder is triggered. It would not protect children who get into parked cars that do not move, as is the case in 26% of these fatalities. It would not work in a number of other common scenarios. It is not a comprehensive solution.
An effective detection and alert system is needed because loving parents and caregivers never think this scenario will happen to them. Yet, it does, especially when they are distracted or tired, or their routines are changed on a particular day. It has happened to loving, responsible families right here in the Kansas City area.
Even after working to prevent hot car deaths for over a decade, it almost happened to me when my son started day care at the age of 3 months. Dr. David Diamond, a renowned neuroscientist, has explained how our competing memory systems can cause a parent operating on autopilot to lose awareness of a quiet or sleeping child in the back seat.
A system that detects a child or pet and alerts others can prevent all types of hot car deaths and injuries. A reminder alone will not. We need the language in the House bill to prevail.
I am proud that my U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids is a co-sponsor of the Hot Cars Act, the standalone bill that was included in the INVEST in America Act. We couldn’t be more thankful for her dedication. We urge Sens. Roger Marshall, Jerry Moran, Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, as well as the members of the House of Representatives from Kansas and Missouri, to join Davids and support this lifesaving measure.
Vehicle-related incidents are the No. 1 killer of children in our country. Children cannot protect themselves. It is our moral and civic duty to do whatever it takes to make sure children are kept alive and safe. Anything less is unacceptable.
While the U.S. Senate celebrates its so-called “bipartisan victory,” the hot car death toll continues to rise, with at least four child fatalities this week alone, including a 2-year-old who died Tuesday in Maple City, Kansas, after climbing into a parked vehicle and not being able to get out. The reminder system in the Senate bill would not have saved this toddler’s life.
We are calling on Congress to do the right thing for children and ensure that detection and alert technology that will save lives is required in the final bill sent to President Joe Biden.
Amber Rollins is director of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Kids and Car Safety, based in Olathe.