By Cameron Thompson
6 News Richmond
MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- Local and national advocates came together Monday to mark National Heatstroke Prevention Day and call on a federal agency to take steps they said will help prevent children from dying in hot cars.
One of those 35 was 18-month-old Anderson Beck, who died on June 28, 2022, and Monday was the first time that his mother, Laura, spoke publicly about what happened as it was not only the day she lost her only child, but her husband, as well.
"Hours prior we were a family of three -- laughing, singing songs, eating breakfast that morning," said Laura Beck. "And in the matter of hours, all of it stopped the laughing stop the singing stop. Everything just stopped so abruptly."
Beck said the family's morning routine had been derailed that morning and her husband had forgotten to take their son to daycare and left him in the car while he was at work (police initially said he had been left in there for up to three hours). The child would die from his injuries and the husband, upon realizing his mistake, would die by suicide in the woods behind the family's Midlothian home.
"Our beautiful home and our little slice of heaven where we were supposed to grow as a family and watch our sweet boy grow into the wonderful man that his papa was," said Beck. "There's such a stigma behind these types of tragedies. So I'm here to tell you that it does happen. It happens to amazing parents and Aaron was one of them."
Beck joined another mother whose child died in a hot car, Kids and Car Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a memory expert, and several lawmakers to ask the Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take steps they said are necessary to protect kids from dying in hot cars like Anderson.
"The number one way this happens is when children are unknowingly left alone in a vehicle," Janette Fennell, Kids and Cars Safety president, said.
The advocates said NHTSA was directed by a provision in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to establish new requirements for cars to be installed with rear-seat alerts -- audible and visual reminders for drivers to check the back seat at the end of the trip.
And while some cars already have that feature and several major automakers already pledged to make them standard in cards by 2025, advocates said the feature is not enough as it sometimes does not work and does not detect movement.
"Additionally, these type of systems do nothing to detect a child who enters a vehicle on their own, which is responsible for a full 45% of all fatalities." added Fennell.
Advocates said they wanted NHTSA to go further with regulations and require the movement detection systems, such as the ones offered by Hyundai, which notifies drivers if there is movement in the back of the car.
“With motor vehicle crash fatalities skyrocketing and children in preventable peril of hot car tragedies every day, it is unconscionable that auto manufacturers, with limited exceptions, are not putting technological solutions into cars as standard equipment. In sharp contrast, the industry has spent billions of dollars in the race to develop and produce autonomous vehicles (AVs), a technology with unproven safety benefits. This National Heatstroke Prevention Day, we urge Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg to issue final rules requiring hot car detection and prevention systems as well as other proven safety systems, like comprehensive automatic emergency braking (AEB), in all new vehicles to reduce the outrageously high death and injury toll," said Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
Lawmakers who spoke during the event said the new regulations are due by November of this year and if they do not include the detection system, they would introduce legislation to require it.
“We’re approaching summer and very soon, cars will become death traps if kids are left inside them. Absent-mindedness is not a crime, but the systemic failure to protect children is reprehensible. Seatbelts, air bags, better construction of cars have already saved countless lives and this simple step – a detection sensor – will in fact save lives,” said Senator Blumenthal (D-CT).” The success that we’ve had in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a major accomplishment, but the U.S. Department of Transportation is lagging in promulgating this rule. We can and must do more.”
For her part, Beck said she would continue to press this issue so that no other families would have to suffer like she has.
"I'll live the rest of my life in Aaron and Anderson's honor and I will fight until no more babies are lost in this way," said Beck.
CBS 6 reached out to NHTSA for comment about the group's demand. The administration, which has a public service campaign on the issue, said it has initiated the rulemaking process and would require vehicles be fitted with the rear-alert systems and will also study the possibility of retrofitting the technology onto cars already on the road.
They said they would continue to identify and test the detection systems as they become available.
They added that starting in FY2024, states can fund heatstroke prevention work using Section 402 funds.
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