WASHINGTON – Automakers pledged to equip nearly all new cars with reminders to check the rear seats for children, a move that one safety advocate says doesn’t go far enough to prevent dozens of children who die each year from heatstroke after being left in vehicles.
Under a voluntary agreement, essentially all new autos by the 2025 model year will at a minimum provide drivers with visual and audible rear-seat reminder alerts after turning the vehicle off, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers announced Wednesday.
“Automakers have been exploring ways to address this safety issue and this commitment underscores how such innovations and increased awareness can help children right now,” said Alliance Interim President and CEO David Schwietert. “Automakers have come together to develop a pathway forward, which not only incorporates existing systems, but also supports new, innovative approaches.”
Some new cars already have rear-seat alerts and automakers have announced plans to offer the system more broadly in the coming years. Hyundai Motor Co. recently said it will make the alerts standard on most models by 2022 and General Motors Co. in 2016 announced plans to equip more than 20 models with its rear-seat reminder, for example.
But safety advocates have urged automakers to adopt technologies that can actually detect rear-seat passengers left behind and alert parents and passersby. Janette Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org, an advocacy group that supports a federal mandate for the detection systems, said she was skeptical the pact would do much to address the problem.
“It’s better than nothing but it’s not going to solve this issue,” Fennell said in an interview. “It’s really kind of disappointing when we have technology that’s available that will do this in a way that will really work and is effective that the industry comes back and says ‘we’re going to do what was available three years ago.”‘
GM has been criticized by KidsAndCars.org for not advancing more sophisticated systems that can detect children in the rear seat. More than 50 parents and family members of children who died in vehicle heatstroke cases called on Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer, to fulfill a 2001 pledge by the company to roll out a rear-seat sensor under development so sensitive that it could detect an infant breathing in a car seat.
GM has not deployed that sensor but has equipped several models with rear-seat alerts.
Roughly 800 children since 1998 have died from heatstroke after being left in a car, including 37 this year, according to KidsAndCars.org. Most were unintentionally forgotten by their caregiver, according to the group.
In one case that drew national outrage, a pair of 1-year-old twins died July 26 of heatstroke in the Bronx after their father forgot to drop them off at day care and left them in his car as he completed a shift of work at a VA medical center.
Safety groups have called for action on the issue after 53 children died after being left in a car last year, a record since tracking of the deaths began.
A bipartisan Senate bill would mandate similar rear-seat reminders on all new cars. A House bill backed by Fennell’s group would require new cars to have a system to detect the presence of rear-seat occupants in addition to having a warning.