Should NHTSA Mandate Technology To Prevent Child Heat Stroke Deaths In Cars?

October 18, 2011

A recent article in by Drew Winter caused a bit of a stir with its title, “The Nanny State Eyes Nanny Cars.” The gist of the story is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), after its July 2011 roundtable in Washington, D.C. on child hyperthermia may be eyeing technology as a preventive measure to child heatstroke deaths.

FamilyCarGuide, while appreciative of the perspective that education is of continuing importance, as further outlined in Richard Read’s piece in TheCarConnection, wanted to hear the positions on the matter from two major child safety advocacy organizations, and Safe Kids USA.

Education is fine, but it’s not preventing some avoidable child deaths says that the popular belief among parents is that they would never inadvertently leave their infant or young child in a vehicle. Among the general public reading about child deaths due to hyperthermia or heat stroke is that the parents must be ignorant or completely irresponsible.

The important statistic to keep in mind is that in well over 50 percent of the cases of children dying in hot vehicles, the person responsible unknowingly left the child.

Educational efforts only go so far, especially if parents think this could never happen to them. According to, the parents they work with who have lost a child from vehicular heat stroke are the “kind of parents who take every safety precaution; they are loving, caring parents across all socioeconomic levels, race/ethnicity, age, gender and profession.”

Technology already exists that can help

Testimony from Janette E. Fennell, founder and president of, before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, May 18, 2009 sheds some light on the education versus technology discussion. The following is excerpted from Ms. Fennell’s remarks:

“Reminder systems to prevent unattended children can easily be incorporated after seatbelt reminder systems have been added. All too often, adults inadvertently leave infants and young children in child restraint systems in the rear seats of passenger vehicles. Exposure of young children, particularly in hot weather, leads to hyperthermia that can result in death or severe injuries. Such inadvertent deaths can be avoided by equipping vehicles with sensors to detect the presence of the child and sound a warning at the time the driver locks the vehicle with the child inside.

“These systems also prevent children from being inadvertently forgotten in vehicles by signaling the driver that a seat belt is still buckled once the vehicle is locked. Similar warning features currently remind drivers when they have left the key in the ignition, left the headlamps on and when a door is open while the vehicle is in motion.”

Safe Kids USA education and prevention efforts

Torine Creppy, executive director of the Safe Kids child passenger safety program, “Safe Kids Buckle Up,” spoke before the NHTSA roundtable on hyperthermia July 26, 2011. As background, Safe Kids USA is a prime source of safety information and programs for traffic safety issues, ranging from car seat installations, booster seat safety, pedestrian safety, to passenger safety programs for 11- to 14-year olds. For several years, Safe Kids has worked to prevent vehicular hyperthermia through its “Never Leave Your Child Alone” program.

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