INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – Some grieving parents are begging the nation's largest car manufacturer to follow a promise it made nearly two decades ago.
Parents and grandparents of more than 50 children who died or suffered heat stroke in hot cars sent a letter to General Motors urging the company to equip cars, trucks and SUVs with technology to prevent similar tragedies .
The letter from victims' families points to a recently discovered news release that GM was issued in 2001, boasting "groundbreaking new technology designed to prevent children from dying or being permanently harmed in dangerously hot vehicles." The 1
"We are targeting a sensor like this for certain full-size vans and tools; we intend to start this rollout in calendar year 2004," GM's then-Vice President Harry Pearce said in the news release April 26, 2001
But those plans were never realized, and now parents whose children died in hot cars know why.
"Unfortunately, even though GM pledged to the public that this technology would be rolled out in 2004, it remains This promise has not been fulfilled. Year after year, child deaths have increased and GM has ignored and failed to act while she knew there were solutions, "the victims' families wrote in a letter
A Deadly Problem
Jenny Stanley is one of the parents who signed the letter that was sent to GM. Her daughter, Sydney, died nine years after the company announced its sensor technology.
"Sydney went missing in a Buick Enclave in 2009, which is a GM product," Stanley told WTHR. They said they wanted sensors in the vehicles in 2004, but did not. Why did GM make that promise if they had not followed through? "
The grieving mother believes Sydney climbed into the parked SUV to get an art project at Sunday School when the tragedy happened. Based on what she learned from family members who first discovered Sydney, Stanley believes the door closed behind her daughter and the girl was overcome by heat inside the vehicle. The 6-year-old died of heat stroke on a buzzing August day in Georgia.
Tragedy is all too common. So far this year, at least 41 children have died in hot vehicles in the United States. The rising death toll includes 21-month-old Marah Crapo who died last week in Brownsburg and 3-year-old Oliver Dill of Evansville who died in July. Friday afternoon, the Marion County Coroner's Office confirmed that 1-year-old Maria Guadalupe Sanchez is also among this year's victims. She died in a hot car in Indianapolis in May, and her cause of death – accident with environmental exposure – was just released after months of toxicology reports. They are among more than 600 children dying in a hot car since 2004.
"This problem does not go away, knowing that some technology may have prevented some of these deaths is heartbreaking," said Amber Rollins, director by Kids and Cars, an organization that tracks child deaths in hot cars. "Car manufacturers can play a big role in preventing these deaths, and I think this technology should have been in cars a long time ago."
In response to parents' letter, a GM spokeswoman sent the following statement to WTHR:
"GM is committed to safety and continues to investigate technology for accurate and reliable detection of children in vehicles … The child question Remaining in vehicles is an industry problem, and GM supports a non-industry solution. Systems that accurately and reliably detect children in vehicles have not been widely distributed throughout the industry due to continued challenges with the accuracy of sensor systems given the large number of vehicle / seating configurations and the varied locations of children in vehicles, "wrote Darri & # 39; n Hardy, GM's corporate communications and public policy communications coordinator.
When asked about sensor technology that was announced in 2001, is still not in any GM vehicle today, Hardy did not answer directly. She instead reiterated information already provided to 13 Investigates:
“The safety of our customers and providing the best technologies is our top priority. We continue to investigate technology for accurate and reliable detection of children in vehicles. GM supports an industry-wide solution to address the tragic problem of leaving children in vehicles, "she wrote.
" If it wasn't ready to leave, they didn't have the kink [worked out] and they weren't Don't be prepared to do what they said they should do, they shouldn't have said it, ”Stanley said, adding that new safety technology introduced by a car manufacturer often becomes standard equipment offered by others. They should never have said it if they were unable to deliver. It is totally unacceptable and it is time for someone to hold them accountable. ”
Other automakers that develop the technology
Sensor technology to prevent fatal accidents in hot cars exists, and a few automakers are now using it. For example, Hyundai is currently offering an "ultrasound rearview" system on some of the Santa Fe and Palisade SUVs.
Using three motion sensors, the system is designed to detect any type of motion in the car after a driver has left.
Jim Smith, general manager at Terry Lee Hyundai in Noblesville, demonstrated to 13 Investigators what happens when movement is detected in what is supposed to be a vacant vehicle.
"The first alert is the alarm. The horn will be heard as well as the headlights will flash, ”he said. “Then Blue Link telemetrics system will send a text message and an email to the driver to alert them that someone is in the vehicle. It can save a child or even a pet that has been left behind. "
The rear seat sensor is now standard on high-end Santa Fe and Palisade vehicles and is available as an upgrade to lower models as part of Hyundai's $ 2,250" convenience package. "The automaker announced that it will extend the technology to additional Hyundai vehicles as an option by 2022.
Kia also offers similar technology in some of the vehicles.
However, as GM pointed out in the statement to WTHR, child detection warning systems are not widely available to consumers in 2019.
What safety feature is offered instead
Instead, several car manufacturers, including GM, are marketing systems that remind drivers to Check the rear seat before leaving the vehicles.  "GM's industry's first rear seat reminder technology was introduced in 2016 as an immediate next step to combat the issue of children left in vehicles," Hardy told WTHR. "The Rear Seat Reminder has been standard since 2019 on all GM's new 4-door sedans, SUVs, pick-ups and crossovers in the US and Canada."
This week, the nation's largest car manufacturers – including GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota and Nissan – announced that they will voluntarily install rear seat reminder systems in all new vehicles sold in the United States by 2025. None of these car manufacturers offer motion sensors in the back seat of the vehicles.
Kids and Cars say that the rear seat reminder technology – which is triggered when a rear door is opened within ten minutes after the engine is turned on – is not as effective as motion detection systems. The grieving parents who wrote to GM agree.
"The reminder system would not notify the driver of the final destination in a number of very common scenarios, which is deceptively dangerous," the victims' parents wrote in the letter. "For example, if the driver stops gasoline and the back door does not open while stopped, they will not receive the reminder alert when they arrive at the final destination … [F] amilies get a false sense of security and hope that their child is protected and that this the nightmare will not happen to them. Our main concern is that the current GM door system will not solve the problem and that children will continue to die. ”
Should it be mandatory?
This week's announcement of automakers is seen as a pre-move as Congress is considering whether to pass a law that would make surveillance technology on the back seat mandatory.
Both the US House and Senate are now considering separate bills to address car deaths. The legislation requires the Minister of Transport to issue a rule requiring car manufacturers to install a child safety alarm system as standard equipment on all new vehicles.
Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Peter King (R-NY) introduced HR 3593, entitled Hot Cars Act, to prevent car deaths. The Senate version, S. 1601, is sponsored by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Several prominent security organizations and Magazine Consumer Reports have joined the legislation. "Education and awareness are simply not enough," said Rollins, who has been updating the total record daily. "We have been educating and raising awareness for 20 years now, and the number is continuing to increase. We need to do more."
The victims' family is urging car manufacturers to tackle the matter without waiting for federal legislation and installing motion detection systems instead of rely only on reminders of the back seat.
"We ask GM to provide an effective and comprehensive solution to prevent the tragedy of children dying in your vehicles of heatstroke such as the requirement of HR 3593 (The Hot Cars Act of 2019), the bipartisan bill introduced in it US House of Representatives. Detection technology is available and affordable. You can claim GM's lead in preventing hot deaths in cars by complying with GM's 2001 commitment with life-saving detection technology, "they wrote in the letter to General Motors.