Child ad­vo­cates urge back­seat alarms as two in­fants die in Ari­zona heat

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY SALLY HO

A pro­posed law that would re­quire car­mak­ers to build alarms for back seats is be­ing pushed by child ad­vo­cates who say it will pre­vent kids from dy­ing in hot cars.

The law also would stream­line the crim­i­nal process against care­givers who cause the deaths — cases that can be in­con­sis­tent but of­ten heav­ier-handed against mothers.

The lat­est deaths came in Ari­zona on triple-digit-de­gree days over the week­end, with two baby boys found for­got­ten in ve­hi­cles in separate in­ci­dents.

More than two dozen child and road safety groups are back­ing the U.S. Se­nate bill in­tro­duced last week aimed at prevent­ing those kinds of deaths by re­quir­ing cars to be equipped with tech­nol­ogy that can alert driv­ers if a child is left in the back seat once the ve­hi­cle is turned off. It could be a mo­tion sen­sor that can de­tect a baby left sit­ting in a rear-fac­ing car seat and then alert the driver, in a sim­i­lar way that re­minders about tire pres­sure, open doors and seat belts now come stan­dard in cars.

“The tech­nol­ogy would help be­cause if you’re in a ve­hi­cle, your child is in the back seat, and you ig­nore that alarm, [you] go [to] jail. Do not pass go. You had a chance,” said Janette Fen­nell of the ad­vo­cacy group Kid­sandCars.org. “You talk to any of the judges, they’ll tell you they’re beyond the hard­est things they have to deal with.”

Po­lice say 1-year-old Josiah Riggins was in the car for hours Satur­day, dis­cov­ered dead only af­ter his fa­ther drove roundtrip, twice, between their sub­ur­ban home and a Phoenix church to drop off the mother and a sib­ling.

Zane En­dress, who was 7 months old, died Friday in Phoenix af­ter be­ing left in the car in the drive­way at home as his usual day care drop-off rou­tine was lost by his grand­par­ents.

“A sim­ple sen­sor could save the lives of dozens of chil­dren killed trag­i­cally in over­heated cars each year, and our bill would en­sure such tech­nol­ogy is avail­able in every car sold in the United States,” Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, Con­necti­cut Demo­crat and the bill’s spon­sor, said in a state­ment. “It can take mere min­utes on a hot day for a car to turn into a death­trap for a small child.”

No charges have been filed against the care­givers in ei­ther Ari­zona case, as po­lice say the death in­ves­ti­ga­tions are un­der­way. De­tec­tives will de­ter­mine crim­i­nal­ity based on the care­giver’s ne­glect, in­tent and mind­set, while also be­ing sen­si­tive to the fam­ily’s deeply felt loss of a child, Phoenix po­lice Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said.

“Those are the very dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Each case is dif­fer­ent. I can’t tell you there’s a set an­swer for any case be­cause there re­ally isn’t,” Sgt. Fortune said.

Kid­sandCars.org, which has tracked more than 800 chil­dren who have died in this way since 1990, said crim­i­nal cases vary greatly, even when the cir­cum­stances are iden­ti­cal. Ms. Fen­nell said 90 per­cent of cases in­volve pure ac­ci­dents, most likely a child for­got­ten by an adult.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Af­ter sev­eral in­fants died af­ter be­ing left in cars bak­ing in the sum­mer­time sun, safety ad­vo­cates want au­tomak­ers to in­stall warn­ings sim­i­lar to seat belt alarms.

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