Author Archives: amber

‘Fatal Distraction’: Ross Harris documentary claims untold story about convicted father

Years after conviction for leaving his son in a hot car, Harris’ parents are speaking out and a documentary filmmaker hopes her work will bring about a new trial.
‘Fatal Distraction’: Ross Harris documentary claims untold story about convicted father
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ATLANTA — It was the trial and conviction that captivated the entire country – a Cobb County father convicted of murder after leaving his son to die in a hot car.

Now, four years later, a new documentary claims to reveal the untold story of the Ross Harris murder trial.

Fatal Distraction” gives a much different view on the case that drew national attention. Four years ago, a judge sentenced Harris to life in prison for leaving his son to die in a hot car. The child, Cooper, was 22 months old at the time.

Throughout, Harris maintained his young son’s death was an accident – a tragic mistake dozens of parents make every year.

On Friday night, while attending a screening for the film in Atlanta, Harris’ parents spoke about their son and the case for the first time.

“I want people to know that he is innocent and an innocent man is sitting in prison and that he was not treated fairly,” his mother Evelyn Harris said. “I want a fair and honest trial. I want him to be vindicated. He’s a good man.”

“People need to know who he really is. And he really cherished his son with every breath he took,” he said. “Everybody has faults, he had faults, but that doesn’t have anything to do with murdering your child.”

The Harrises said they were advised not to speak out during the trial or the years after to protect the integrity of the jury.

They said the media and the prosecutors portrayed their son as a monster. In reality, the prosecution painted Harris as a man looking to start a new life – one away from his wife and child.

They revealed explicit details of affairs and disclosed sexually explicit text messages sent the same day Cooper died.

The documentary’s director said her film is a more accurate depiction of Ross Harris.

“It’s a gross, gross miscarriage of justice and it makes me very angry, extremely angry,” director Susan Morgan Cooper said. “Documentaries have a great power and you just watch me through this documentary – we are going to make sure that Justin Ross Harris gets released from prison and has a fair trial.”

A jury convicted Harris on all counts. At the time, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, who now heads the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said that he believed “justice was served … on behalf of young Cooper Harris.”

A judge will hear Harris’s motion for a new trial in December.

Front blinds spots are a hidden danger on all vehicles

It is the leading cause of deaths when children are around cars — and it’s not being backed over.

The danger is the blind spot in the front of your vehicle. It’s something that’s not been widely talked about, and most don’t know about it until it’s too late.

2News enlisted the help of Primary Children’s Spot the Tot Program and set up a demonstration with Angie Ostler, a mother of five, behind the wheel, and her 3-year-old Alex in front of her SUV.

We slowly have Alex move back. At 6 feet away, Angie says she can see the top of Alex’s head, but it wouldn’t be obvious if she didn’t know what she was looking for. With Alex eight feet in front of her SUV, and while leaning forward and looking for him, Angie sees Alex’s eyes.

2News enlisted the help of Primary Children’s Spot the Tot Program and set up a demonstration with Angie Ostler, a mother of five, behind the wheel, and her 3-year-old Alex in front of her SUV. (Photo: KUTV)

“Sitting back, it’s still very hard to see,” Ostler said.

All of that was with Alex standing up. Experts tell us most frontovers — when children are hurt or killed because a driver moving forward very slowly didn’t see them — happen when children are playing around the front area of a vehicle.

“If he were sitting down, I wouldn’t see him at all. There’s absolutely no way I would see him. That actually makes me have anxiety even talking about it,” Ostler said.

2News enlisted the help of Primary Children’s Spot the Tot Program and set up a demonstration with Angie Ostler, a mother of five, behind the wheel, and her 3-year-old Alex in front of her SUV. (Photo: KUTV)

It’s a situation that became all too real for a Kearns family. In April 2015, Kendra Moad’s grandfather went to move his truck, not realizing 20-month-old Kendra followed him out. He didn’t see her in front of the vehicle and ran over her. Kendra was rushed to the hospital, but didn’t make it.

“We know from the data that over 70 percent of these accidents, it is either a family member or relative that’s driving the car,” said Jessica Strong, the community health manager at Primary Children’s Hospital.

We talk frequently about making sure you’re not backing over children when you’re coming out of your driveway or a parking spot, but it’s important to know that there are blind spots in the front, too — especially if it’s a high-profile vehicle.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says frontovers are responsible for 366 deaths a year and more than 15,000 injuries. Children are most often the victims.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says frontovers are responsible for 366 deaths a year and more than 15,000 injuries. Children are most often the victims. (Graphic: KUTV)

In fact, the group says frontovers are responsible for 30% of fatalities in children 14 years old and younger when they’re around vehicles, even more than backovers. Utah has the sixth most frontovers in the country.

Strong said the best way to prevent frontovers is to walk around your car before you get in, put down your window, and listen for children or others in the area.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says frontovers are responsible for 366 deaths a year and more than 15,000 injuries. Children are most often the victims. (Graphic: KUTV)

“There’s really no substitution for that human intervention,” she said.

Another important preventative measure is to avoid distractions.

Jessica Strong is the community health manager at Primary Children’s Hospital. (Photo: KUTV)

“…so put down your cell phone, turn down the radio, avoid any of those distractions as you’re doing these seemingly simple but often dangerous tasks,” Strong said.

Some vehicles are now being equipped with front view cameras, but Strong says you can’t rely on them completely:

Unfortunately, sometimes it gives us a false sense of security. We think ‘oh, I have a backup camera, I don’t need to walk around my car,’ but that’s not true. We still see backovers and frontovers in vehicles that have that technology.”

Taking that extra minute to walk around and be aware is something experts and police agree could end up saving a life.

There’s more information on frontovers and backovers at:

Is leaving a child in a hot car a crime or accident? A look at 2 Lafayette cases

Baby Gavin Gholston and toddler Ryatt Hensley both faced untimely deaths after overheating in vehicles in Lafayette Parish.

Gavin, 11 months, died on a June day in 2012 in a hot vehicle parked at a workplace after his father forgot to drop him off at daycare that morning. Ryatt, 2, was found dead over the weekend in a vehicle parked outside of a residential area.

In the first case, Robert “Matt” Gholston faced no criminal charges. Investigators determined the death was a horrible tragedy, not a crime. The man had suffered the loss of his son. It was punishment enough.

In the more recent case, Natalie Broussard, Ryatt’s mother, was arrested and charged with negligent homicide. Both cases are under the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. The Sheriff’s Office has released little information about either case.

“The circumstances were different,” said Captain John Mowell, spokesperson for LPSO. “We determined there was no criminal intent with the first one. This one, we believe there was at least negligence.”

The Sheriff’s Office could point to no other cases in at least 10 years within its jurisdiction where an infant or toddler had died from heat stroke in a vehicle.

Even if more information were publicly available, it’s difficult to say why one parent faces criminal charges while another does not, according to Amber Rollins, director of, a nonprofit that has tracks and analyzes pediatric deaths caused by heatstroke in cars.

“You could have two different cases with nearly identical circumstances, and in one case the parent is charged with extremely harsh charges and in the other they’re not charged at all,” Rollins said. “And there really just doesn’t seem to be any consistency across the board.”

Her organization has identified about 500 deaths across the country involving parents and caregivers who said they were not aware they had left their babies in hot cars.

No criminal charges were filed in about 41% of those cases. In about 32% of the cases, a parent or caregiver was charged and convicted of a crime. In about 11% of cases, someone was charged with a crime but was not convicted in court. Another 16% of cases were either still open or had an unknown status.

Charges also varied widely, ranging from manslaughter and other felonies to misdemeanors such as child endangerment.

“If any case is truly a case where a parent unknowingly left a child, then criminal charges should absolutely not be filed,” Rollins said. “The whole point of criminalizing something is to prevent it from happening again in the first place. We think that actually goes in the opposite direction of what you want to do. If someone sees this as a criminal issue, they think it doesn’t apply to me. If parents are really honest with themselves, every parent has lost awareness that their child is in the backseat when they’re sleep deprived. The difference, in most cases, is that something triggered them to remember.”

Although these cases are not terribly common, child-safety activists have been trying to raise awareness of how easy it is for a parent or caregiver to forget a child in a vehicle.

The part of the brain responsible for performing habitual tasks such as driving to and from work suppresses the part of the brain responsible for processing the here and now and changes to routine, such as dropping a child off at daycare, according to David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who researches the psychology behind these cases. The subconscious memory is much more likely to take over when someone is stress, fatigued or sleep-deprived, all of which are especially common for parents of young children, Diamond said.

“Parents lose awareness that their children are in their cars,” Diamond said in a prepared statement. “Tragically, these parents report that they had pictures of their child on their desks, they talked about their child, and even left work on time to pick up their child from daycare.”

On a hot summer day, a vehicle’s temperature can reach 125 degrees within minutes, even with the windows cracked. Children can also die of heatstroke when it’s just 60 degrees outside if left in a vehicle for an extended period of time, according to

Rollins and others have pushed for laws that require car companies to include safety features alerting a driver if a child or pet is left unattended in a vehicle. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill earlier this year that would require such features.

In the meantime, some parents and caregivers have relied on tools such as the eClip, a low-cost device that attaches to a car seat or diaper bag and sends alerts through a smartphone when a user walks more than 25 feet away from the vehicle.

“It’s forgotten-baby syndrome. Just like you can forget how you got to work because you’re absorbed in other things, you can forget that you have a baby in the car,” said Michael Braunold, who developed eClip and other childcare safety products as CEO of Elepho. “That’s why in the majority of cases, there’s no prosecution. It’s very hard to prove negligence.”

Easy Seat Belt Safety Checks to Protect Your Children and Avoid Tragedy

How to guard against child strangulation risks with seat belts and other key safety advice

Children and Seat Belt Safety

Seat belts are among the oldest and most effective safety devices on cars. The latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 14,955 lives were saved in 2017 due to seat belts. But this key safety feature has led to an occasional dangerous situation with children who wrapped themselves up in a seat belt and became stuck with the belt locked tight.

This danger recently gained attention when a near-tragedy occurred in Bedford, Mass., a community in the Boston area. Bedford police responded to a call about a child choking in a car because a seat belt was wrapped tightly around the child’s neck. “This was a very dangerous situation, one that I have not encountered previously in more than 25 years of public safety experience,” Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno said in a statement. The mother was able to cut the child free and apply CPR until help arrived.

How Can This Happen?

The front-passenger and rear seat belts in current model cars are designed to secure child car seats that aren’t installed using LATCH anchors. In order to keep the car seats firmly in place, the regular seat belt and shoulder harness can be used. On the belt, the automatic locking retractor (ALR) mechanism allows the belt to retract and tighten to secure a child seat, but it prevents the belt from developing any more slack outward. Unlike the emergency locking retractor (ELR) that locks during a crash, heavy braking, or even with a firm jerk on the belt, the ALR engages when the seat belt is pulled completely out. Trouble can occur should an idle child play with a seat belt wrapping it around themselves. Being locked, the belt retracts more and more, creating an unexpected, potentially tragic situation. And squirming to get free may cause the belt to tighten still further.

What Can You Do?

“It is always unfortunate when a feature intended to improve safety causes harm,” says Jennifer Stockburger, who leads Consumer Reports’ child seat test program. “Thankfully, there are some simple steps that can be taken to avoid that risk.”

Stockburger and her team of child safety experts recommend:

  • For young children in car seats, be sure their harness is tightened securely to prevent them from reaching any belts that are near them. A snug harness should prevent a parent or caregiver from pinching any of the harness strap between their fingers when checked at the child’s shoulders. (Learn more about properly adjusting a car seat harness.)
  • When a child seat is secured using the lower anchors (LATCH), buckle the unused belt for that seating position behind the child seat before you install it (take care that it’s flat against the seatback) to prevent the child from being able to get at it.
  • Even when child restraints are installed with the seat belt, buckling belts in adjacent seats and locking them in ALR mode (by pulling the belt completely out) will allow the belt to retract flat against the seatback, but this will prevent them from being pulled further out, avoiding unforeseen danger. For seat belts where the shoulder portion of the belt originates from the vehicle ceiling—most often for center rear seats in SUVs and minivans—consider disconnecting the shoulder portion and allowing the shoulder belt to the ceiling to retract when not in use.
  • For children old enough to understand, explain that the belts are a safety feature that shouldn’t be played with. Explain how the ALR works and that pulling it all of the way out will “lock” the belt. Teach them that they should alert the driver if they find themselves or anyone else in the rear seat with a locked belt to avoid danger.
  • If a driver finds that a young passenger has locked the belt, don’t advise them to unbuckle to fix it while traveling. Pull over first.
  • If the seat belt should ever lock to a point where injury or strangulation is imminent, first try to simply unbuckle the belt. This can be difficult if not impossible when the tension on the belt is already high or if the seat belt receptacle is blocked by the car seat or a panicked child. As a last resort, keep sturdy scissors or a dedicated seat belt cutting device in the car. We hope it will never be needed.

“Thinking through how to respond to this rare, frightening situation in advance can help you to quickly aid a child,” says Stockburger. “And learning how to properly use seat belts and secure car seats is a great way to bolster your family’s safety. Remember that a pair of scissors can be a great rescue tool and simply handy to have onboard.”

Statement on the 50th Anniversary of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 15, 2020
CONTACT: Pete Daniels, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety / / 301-442-2249 (C)

Statement on the 50th Anniversary of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Webinars celebrating past successes belie lack of recent progress and an over-reliance on ineffective nonbinding guidance


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established by the Highway Safety Act of 1970 with the mission of reducing the number of deaths, injuries, and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes.  While a series of “pat on the back” online discussions this week will focus on progress made over the last 50 years, in reality this agency is failing to meet the moment.  Just today, the National Safety Council released statistics for the first half of 2020 showing fatality rates on our roadways are estimated to have increased 20 percent.  Clearly more can and must be done to address this disturbing and distressing uptick.

NHTSA’s lack of progress on minimum performance standards for crash avoidance technology is a prime example of a missed opportunity to save lives through improved auto safety.  Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) including automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind spot warning (BSW) and lane departure warning (LDW) should be required as standard equipment on all new vehicles.  Instead, these proven safeguards are often offered as part of luxury add-on packages.  In 2016, NHTSA helped broker a voluntary agreement with auto makers to equip their vehicles with automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems, as standard equipment, by 2023.  Yet, as of the beginning of 2020, five manufacturers had compliance rates below 40 percent, including GM with a compliance rate of only 29 percent and Fiat / Chrysler with a compliance rate of a mere 10 percent.  The voluntary agreement has not sufficiently accelerated marketplace saturation, has allowed companies to lag way behind others and has set an unacceptably low bar for the capability and performance of the technology.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) Board member and the fifth Administrator of NHTSA Joan Claybrook said, “Congress clearly recognized the effectiveness of safety requirements over toothless voluntary agreements when it enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966.  NHTSA does have a positive story to tell about hundreds of thousands of lives saved thanks to efforts by the agency.  According to the agency’s own statistics, between 1975 and 2017, 11,606 lives have been saved because of proper child restraints, 374,276 lives have been saved due to seat belt use, and 50,475 have been saved by frontal airbags.  However, that legacy is in danger today.  More than 36,000 people are dying each year in motor vehicle crashes.  Yet this agency has been failing to take commonsense, proactive steps to reduce this needless toll.”

Advocates also urges NHTSA to revamp its approach on a safety issue with the potential for profound implications in the future: autonomous vehicles (AVs).  NHTSA’s current “hands off” approach to “hands free” driving with the AV TEST initiative is completely insufficient.  Asking AV manufacturers to provide data on a voluntary basis is fraught with problems including the likelihood that data submitted will not include essential safety information or be uniform or timely.  Simply put, it will be completely unreliable and unusable.  Instead NHTSA should begin a rulemaking process that will ensure this evolving technology meets basic safety requirements, including a “vision test” that could verify an AVs ability to “see” and properly respond to all participants and aspects of the operating environment.

In addition to a lack of effective action on crash avoidance technology and autonomous vehicles, NHTSA is far behind in completing congressionally mandated rulemakings that would improve the safety of rear seat passengers, upgrade child passenger protection and advance commercial motor vehicle safety.

Over the past 50 years, when NHTSA has taken action to require auto safety upgrades, the results have been dramatic.  Today we call upon NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to honor this history over the next 50 years by working vigorously to ensure that all road users benefit from the next generation of auto safety improvements.


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer.  Advocates’ mission is the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that prevent motor vehicle crashes, save lives, reduce injuries, and contain costs.


Statement on the 50th Anniversary of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Advocate discusses federal bill after 3-year-old girl dies after being left in hot car in Edmond



EDMOND, Okla. — Edmond police are still investigating the tragic death of a 3-year-old girl who was left in a hot vehicle for several hours Monday.

Authorities told KOCO 5 that her father called 911 after finding his daughter in an SUV Monday evening. Police said the girl was in the car for four to six hours.

A federal bill that is headed to the Senate would require technology to detect a child inside a car. Amber Rollins, who is the director of the nonprofit organization in Kansas and is a working mother whose heart breaks for the Edmond girl’s family, spoke with KOCO 5 about the what’s being done to prevent other tragedies.

“I can’t imagine this could happen to me, but I know that it could. And it almost did,” Rollins said.

She said she nearly left her 3-year-old son, Renly, in the back seat of her car when he was 3 months old while she was on her way to work.

“I did lose awareness that he was in my back seat during a change in route. He had just started back to day care,” Rollins said.

Rollins works with parents who have lost children in hot cars. The latest incident is the fourth child to die inside a hot car this year in Oklahoma.

“We work on education and awareness programs to help prevent these tragedies from happening,” she said.

A federal bill known as the Hot Cars Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month. The measure would require technology to be installed in all new vehicles to detect the presence of a child or occupant in the car.

Experts suggest putting your cellphone or a laptop with the child as a reminder to check the back seat before you go about your day.

“Wrap your arms around this family and lift them up and make sure this doesn’t ever happen again,” Rollins said.



5 reasons why self-driving cars are still not on our roads

Not up your street (yet): the Tesla Model 3 which is fitted with a full self-driving system. Photo: Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Not up your street (yet): the Tesla Model 3 which is fitted with a full self-driving system. Photo: Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Analysis: despite what Elon Musk might think, there are still obstacles ahead for fully autonomous carsBy John McDermidUniversity of York

Elon Musk thinks his company Tesla will have fully autonomous cars ready by the end of 2020. “There are no fundamental challenges remaining,” he said recently. “There are many small problems. And then there’s the challenge of solving all those small problems and putting the whole system together.”

While the technology to enable a car to complete a journey without human input (what the industry calls “level 5 autonomy“) might be advancing rapidly, producing a vehicle that can do so safely and legally is another matter.There are indeed still fundamental challenges to the safe introduction of fully autonomous cars, and we have to overcome them before we see these vehicles on our roads. Here are five of the biggest remaining obstacles.


Autonomous cars use a broad set of sensors to “see” the environment around them, helping to detect objects such as pedestrians, other vehicles and road signs. Cameras help the car to view objects. Lidar uses lasers to measure the distance between objects and the vehicle. Radar detects objects and tracks their speed and direction.

These sensors all feed data back to the car’s control system or computer to help it make decisions about where to steer or when to brake. A fully autonomous car needs a set of sensors that accurately detect objects, distance, speed and so on under all conditions and environments, without a human needing to intervene.

Lousy weather, heavy traffic, roads signs with graffiti on them can all negatively impact the accuracy of sensing capability. Radar, which Tesla uses, is less susceptible to adverse weather conditions, but challenges remain in ensuring that the chosen sensors used in a fully autonomous car can detect all objects with the required level of certainty for them to be safe.

To enable truly autonomous cars, these sensors have to work in all weather conditions anywhere on the planet, from Alaska to Zanzibar and in congested cities such as Cairo and Hanoi. Accidents with Tesla’s current (only level 2) “autopilot”, including one in July 2020 hitting parked vehicles, show the company has a big gap to overcome to produce such a global, all-weather capability.

Machine learning

Most autonomous vehicles will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to process the data that comes from its sensors and to help make the decisions about its next actions. These algorithms will help identify the objects detected by the sensors and classify them, according to the system’s training, as a pedestrian, a street light, and so on. The car will then use this information to help decide whether the car needs to take action, such as braking or swerving, to avoid a detected object.

In the future, machines will be able to do this detection and classification more efficiently than a human driver can. But at the moment there is no widely accepted and agreed basis for ensuring that the machine learning algorithms used in the cars are safe. We do not have agreement across the industry, or across standardisation bodies, on how machine learning should be trained, tested or validated.

Interior of car looking out at virtual world.
Fully autonomous capabilities are yet to be proven. Scharfsinn/Shutterstock

The open road

Once an autonomous car is on the road it will continue to learn. It will drive on new roads, detect objects it hasn’t come across in its training, and be subject to software updates.

How can we ensure that the system continues to be just as safe as its previous version? We need to be able to show that any new learning is safe and that the system doesn’t forget previously safe behaviours, something the industry has yet to reach agreement on.


Sufficient standards and regulations for a whole autonomous system do not exist – in any industry. Current standards for the safety of existing vehicles assume the presence of a human driver to take over in an emergency.

For self-driving cars, there are emerging regulations for particular functions, such as for automated lane keeping systems. There is also an international standard for autonomous systems that includes autonomous vehicles, which sets relevant requirements but does not solve the problems of sensors, machine learning and operational learning introduced above – although it may in time.

Without recognised regulations and standards, no self-driving car, whether considered to be safe or not, will make it on to the open road.

Social acceptability

There have been numerous high-profile accidents involving Tesla’s current automated cars, as well as with other automated and autonomous vehiclesSocial acceptability is not just an issue for those wishing to buy a self-driving car, but also for others sharing the road with them.

The public needs to be involved in decisions about the introduction and adoption of self-driving vehicles. Without this, we risk the rejection of this technology.

The first three of these challenges must be solved to help us overcome the latter two. There is, of course, a race to be the first company to introduce a fully self-driving car. But without collaboration on how we make the car safe, provide evidence of that safety, and work with regulators and the public to get a “stamp of approval” these cars will remain on the test track for years to come.

Unpalatable as it may be to entrepreneurs such as Musk, the road to getting autonomous vehicles approved is through lengthy collaboration on these hard problems around safety, assurance, regulation and acceptance.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

John McDermid is Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme, at theUniversity of York

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ

Safety advocates push for technology that can save lives of children left in hot cars


LAS VEGAS (CBS) — More than a dozen children have died so far this year in hot cars, even with Americans staying home more because of the coronavirus. Now safety advocates are pushing for new technology that can save lives.

Jenny Stanley says her daughter, Sydney, “was a bundle of energy, she was the happiest child.” In the summer of 2010, the 6-year-old went next door to play with a friend, but no one was there. It’s not clear why, but on her way back home she climbed into her family car and never got out. With her parents thinking Sydney was at the neighbors, she wasn’t found until hours later.

The paramedics were called. “So they loaded her in the ambulance and they came back in and told us, we’re sorry there’s nothing we can do for her. It’s too late,” Jenny recalls.

A new study from analyzed hot car deaths since 1990. The group found an average of 39 children die every year, but that number has jumped to over 50 during the past two years.

Most cases happen when a parent forgets a child is in the back seat, often believing they had already dropped off their child at school or day care. But 26% of deaths are like Sydney’s when a child gets in a car on their own.

Some automakers are voluntarily installing detection systems that can prevent a tragedy. But safety advocates want new laws that would require technology in all new vehicles that can detect a child in the car. held a virtual press conference showing off some new options car companies can install, like VitaSense. It alerts parents if a child is left behind. The company says VitaSense is sensitive enough to detect the breathing of babies.

3D imaging radar from Vayyar can warn parents if a child gets into a car.

It’s technology Jenny is pushing for. “If I can do anything just to prevent one family from having to go through this.” Jenny is hoping Congress will pass legislation forcing automakers to install detection systems that can help prevent another tragedy.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Safety Advocates Push for Advanced Tech Mandate to Cut Hot Car Deaths hosted a webinar showing tech available now that could cut hot car child deaths.

Safety advocates pushing for new technology that would alert drivers if they leave a child in their vehicle after leaving it say the new devices could lower the cost of sensor technology in current and coming vehicles. rolled out examples of new technology that could be installed in vehicles right now that can determine if a baby or small child has been left in a vehicle and trigger a series of alarms and warnings to prevent that child from dying or being injured due to exposure in an overheated vehicle.

The group also promoted the Hot Cars Act that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the recent Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2). It now needs Senate approval and a presidential signature before it mandates technology that issues audio and visual warnings inside and outside the vehicle.

“We simply cannot let another summer pass without making the life-saving and desperately needed technology a part of the solution to save the lives of innocent babies. Every day that we delay in advancing these cost-effective detection technologies means children are at risk of needlessly dying.” said Janette Fennell, president of during the webinar.

The organization has teamed with other safety-oriented groups to advocate for a variety of tech-oriented issues in the auto industry, such as pushing for further testing of autonomous vehicles before they drive on public issues.

Vayyar Imaging’s child detection system can sense if a child is breathing — under a blanket.

The hot car issue is at the fore of many efforts because an average of 39 children die annually after being trapped inside a hot vehicle. However, the last two years have seen new records of 54 and 55 deaths. The organization believes automakers need to do more to prevent these fatalities.

More importantly, they want a technology that works well, unlike many of the systems that are currently in place. The groups want it though of like other safety components in a vehicle: they should work — period.

“The voluntary agreement notes that a system must ‘consider the potential presence’ of an occupant and provide an alert when there is ‘the potential presence’ of an occupant,” said Shaun Kildare, Senior Director of Research at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.  “This allows for technology which does not detect, but rather essentially guesses whether there may be a child left in a vehicle.” He continued, “You wouldn’t want your brakes to potentially work when you press them.”

The groups did point out that Hyundai’s Ultrasonic sensor-based technology would meet the requirements set forth in the Hot Cars Act. Hyundai, and its sister auto brand Kia, began offering it last year after introducing it in 2017. Other automakers have systems in place as well, including General Motors which has offered its Rear Seat Reminder on all of its four-door sedans, trucks and SUVs starting with the 2019 model year as well.

KidAndCars is working with a variety of safety advocacy groups.

The group is working with four automotive technology companies to advance the cause of getting new sensor-based systems in future vehicles that can better determine if there’s a baby or simply an inanimate object in the car.

Each of the four, Aptiva, IEE Sensing, Caaresys and Vayyar Imaging, all offered videos promoting their technology, outlining how it can help automakers meet the mandate of the Hot Cars Act as well as make things easier as they move toward autonomous vehicles, especially on the cost front.

Ian Podkamien, Vayyar’s director of business development, said its iteration of the tech is a “very, very affordable element” of the system, adding it would actually save U.S. automakers money. The consensus of the calls experts was that it could be cost neutral once mandated because of the economies of scale.

The problem isn’t just a problem in the U.S., according to the organization, noting its been tracking the problem in 56 countries around the world and it’s on the rise in most of those as well.

More vehicles are sitting parked during coronavirus — and they’re a risk to kids

Aug. 22, 2010, was the worst day of Jenny Stanley’s life, and she wants to make sure other families don’t experience the loss of a child like her family has.

That Sunday was the day her 6-year-old daughter, Sydney, died in a hot vehicle. Her family believes the little girl, searching for a craft from church, crawled into the family’s Buick Enclave and died of vehicular heatstroke.

Tragically, the Alpharetta, Georgia, family’s loss has been followed by hundreds of others. The previous two years have seen the most children lost in a similar span in this gruesome fashion, 54 and 53 deaths, respectively, in the United States.

This year, COVID-19 appears to have brought its own impact to bear, with more children dying of heatstroke having gotten into vehicles on their own vs. being left there — almost always unintentionally, experts say — by an adult. The assumption is that vehicles are more likely to be parked at home, often unlocked, rather than driven to, say, an office. Thirteen children, ages 10 months to 4 years old, have died so far this year in a hot car, according to Since 1990, almost 1,000 have died of vehicular heatstroke.

After she lost her daughter, Stanley became an advocate, working with the nonprofit group,

“I wanted to be sure that another child didn’t pass away to heatstroke. I wanted to be sure that another family didn’t have to go through this. So now my mission is to have every car installed with a child detection device,” Stanley said Tuesday during a webinar, which brought together advocates, lawmakers and representatives of companies offering their own technological solutions.

More: Automakers: Technology to fight deaths of kids in hot cars will be standard by 2025 model year

More: Kids are dying in hot cars at an alarming rate; safety agency tweets for awareness

Last year, automakers pledged that rear seat reminder systems would be standard equipment on almost all passenger vehicles sold in the United States by the 2025 model year. Industry groups noted that individual automakers are free to go even further and do so faster if they choose.

Safety advocates, however, have blasted the pledge as simply inadequate, noting also that it would be voluntary and unenforceable. They want systems that detect the presence of children, not just remind someone to check the back seat, and can alert the driver after he or she has left the vehicle. They point to unmet goals, such as when General Motors pledged in 2001 to roll out sensor technology by 2004 “so sophisticated that it can detect motion as subtle as the breathing of an infant sleeping in a rear-facing child safety seat.”

When asked about the issue last year, GM, which has defended its focus on safety, explained that “systems that accurately and reliably detect children in vehicles have not been widely deployed across the industry due to continued challenges with the accuracy of sensing systems given the broad number of vehicle/seating configurations and the varied positions of children in vehicles.”

The issue has received congressional attention, with legislation passing the House. However, something similar may not have enough support in the Senate despite interest, according to discussion during the webinar.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., added his voice to Tuesday’s presentation, describing the need to act as a moral obligation.

“We have the technology to prevent this kind of heartbreak, we have an obligation to use it. My heart goes out to whoever might be affected by these tragedies, but my message goes to the manufacturers. The Hot Cars Act that I’ve introduced would make mandatory a moral obligation that you have to do the right thing and all of us should raise the alarm and support this legislation,” Blumenthal said.

Experts have emphasized that children dying in hot cars is almost always unintentional, although some parents have faced criminal charges. The families involved range across racial, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.

That describes what Janette Fennell, founder of, has seen in the years that she has been an advocate on the issue.

“All it takes is a simple change in routine when parents are totally sleep-deprived and stressed. Everyone who has had children knows that that first year of a child’s life we’re operating in a bit of a fog, and because that is simply a fact, I know as a country we can do more to protect our littlest, precious babies,” she said.

Fennell and others called the cost of adding child detection technology inconsequential to the price of a new vehicle, ranging from an extra $10 to $40.

Regulators have emphasized education, encouraging parents never to leave children alone in a vehicle and to even place items, such as a purse, in the back seat as a way to prompt a check before leaving. They have noted also that because of the length of time it takes the U.S. vehicle fleet to turn over, it would be years before new technology would be installed in a majority of vehicles, which is one reason for the educational push.

“Make it a habit to check your entire vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away. Train yourself to park, look, lock, or always ask yourself, ‘Where’s baby?” according to information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Heatstroke can begin when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees. It can also happen quickly, as a vehicle’s interior temperature can increase almost 20 degrees in 10 minutes, according to experts. A cloudy day is not a defense against vehicular heatstroke.

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.