Tyler Cestia Statement, father of Thomas Cestia:
On June 14, 2021, I was preparing for a very busy day which would include a stressful 3-year audit at work. Normally I took both of my boys to daycare before heading to work. That day, I only had my youngest, Thomas. I put him in the car seat behind the driver’s seat instead of on the other side where I normally buckled him in. Thomas never made a sound that morning and would often times sleep on our drives to the babysitter. I shuffled off to work where I gave the morning safety moment presentation to our crew – the topic was on the importance of working in teams during the hot summer months and identifying early signs of heat exhaustion.
I completed the 3-year audit and took the auditor to lunch at a local restaurant in my truck. After lunch we returned to the office again in my truck without either myself or the auditor looking in the backseat. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until that afternoon at 1:50 pm a thought crossed my mind… I realized that I didn’t remember seeing the babysitter that morning. Immediately, I ran out to my truck where I found Thomas in his car seat unresponsive and motionless. He was only 2.5 years old. There are no words that can even begin to describe the heartache that myself and my family feel every single day. I miss my son SO much. I would have given my life for him and I ask myself everyday how this horrific accident could occur to a father who loves his children more than anything in this world.
As difficult as it has been, I have accepted full responsibility for the mistake I made, however there are always preventions that can be utilized to help future parents. Thomas died in my 2020 GMC Sierra 4-door pickup truck. The truck had what is called a “rear seat reminder” alert. Before Thomas’ death, I thought that the rear seat reminder detected children in the back seat. I was wrong. The rear seat reminder detects the opening of the rear door of a vehicle, NOT a child.
The day Thomas died, I drove my truck 3 times and never once heard an alert to remind me that my son was in the back seat. The alert was so quiet that I never heard it. During my trip to lunch with the auditor, the reminder never went off because we did not open the back door. The system failed again to protect my son.
My truck gave many false alarms meaning the back seat reminder went off when we did not have our children in the truck. As parents we were not aware of exactly how the technology worked. The current technology right now cannot detect the difference between opening the back door and putting a briefcase in the backseat for work, or whether a child is being put in the car seat. I am concerned that other families will have a false sense of security with these ineffective and misleading systems.
We need technology that can detect children in vehicles and alert others of their whereabouts to prevent hot car tragedies.
Today, I am calling on the Biden Administration, Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigeig, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ensure that the hot car final rule is issued within the 2-year time period required by law. It is imperative that the final rule issued by NHTSA goes above and beyond what was required in the legislative language to include occupant detection so that families don’t have to live through this horror. Occupant detection systems are readily available to automakers and they’re cost effective. Children do not have to die in hot cars, but these tragedies will continue to devastate families until vehicles can detect children to protect children.