(Reuters) - Automakers could help prevent accidental deaths of small children left in hot cars by installing devices to remind drivers to check their back seats for passengers before getting out, three U.S. lawmakers sponsoring a safety measure said on Wednesday.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers joined safety experts and parents with testimonials of personal tragedies to publicly press for a law they said would have averted many of the 800 deaths of children left in overheated cars since 1990.
“It should be bipartisan, non-partisan, it should be America’s legislation,” Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican told a Washington press conference.
The bill, known as the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats, or HOT CARS, Act, would instruct the U.S. Transportation Department to issue a rule requiring new cars to have systems that alert drivers check their back seats after they turn off their engines.
Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat and a chief sponsor of the bill, lauded General Motors Co for already installing rear-seat reminders in its 2018 model Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it would review the legislation and “provide guidance,” but added that under the bill it would take about 20 years before all cars were equipped with the new technology.
“Greater public awareness saves lives today,” alliance spokesman Scott Hall said in a statement.
Stories of children, as well as pets, who die while left unattended in hot cars tend to horrify Americans each summer.
Miles Harrison of suburban Washington recounted the highly publicized death of his adopted young son, when he forgot to drop him at daycare and left him in his car at work on a hot July day nine years ago. He was tried and found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
“It really did not matter to me whether I was found guilty or innocent,” he said. “I still have not forgiven myself and don’t know if I have the capacity to do so.”
The Russian government later used the tragedy as partial justification for banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian orphans, naming the law after the child.
Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by David Gregorio