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H.R. 2801 (115th): HOT CARS Act of 2017

Since 1990, 836 children have died from heatstroke after being accidentally left in cars. That’s the second-most common cause of nontraffic child fatalities from vehicles, behind only accidental backovers.

If the outside temperature is 90 degrees, a car’s temperature can spike to as high as 133 degreesafter only an hour.

What the bill does

The HOT CARS Act would require the Transportation Department to mandate all new motor vehicles have a “child safety alert system.” This would work similarly to existing seat belt alerts, with flashing symbols and warning sounds in the driver’s line of sight by the speedometer.

The full name is the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act.

The House version [H.R. 2801] was introduced last June by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH13). The Senate version [S. 1666] was introduced last July by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill is a necessary and inexpensive safety measure that would save lives, while cars currently provide drivers with warnings for things that aren’t life threatening.

“No child should endure the tragedy of dying while trapped in a hot vehicle. The unfortunate reality is that even good, loving and attentive parents can get distracted,” Rep. Ryan said in a press release. “Studies have shown that this can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

“Our cars can already alert drivers when they leave their keys in the car, their lights on, or their trunk open — none of which are life threatening. It is not unusual for the government to mandate safety features to protect lives,” Ryan continued.

“Cars are mandated to have seat belts, interior trunk-releases, and rear backup cameras. Our legislation would move us one step closer to getting this inexpensive technology in every car on the road to help save the lives of children nationwide.”

What opponents say

Opponents say the bill would increase costs while not doing much to solve the problem, especially in the near term because of car buying habits.

“The proposed mandate for notification technology in cars misses the targeted population, because so few parents of young children buy new cars,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement. “Each year, less than 13% of new car buyers have a child six years old or younger,”

“And with people keeping cars longer, its takes about two decades for a technology to reach all the passenger vehicles on our roads,” the Alliance added. “Greater public awareness saves lives today.”

Odds of passage

The provision was incorporated into the SELF DRIVE Act, which passed the House in September but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate. (Read GovTrack Insider’s bill summary here.)

What are the odds of passage as standalone legislation?

The House version has attracted 19 bipartisan cosponsors: 16 Democrats and three Republicans. It awaits a possible vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

A previous House version introduced by Ryan in 2016 attracted four bipartisan cosponsors but never received a vote.

The Senate version has attracted two bipartisan cosponsors, a Democrat and a Republican. It awaits a possible vote in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Last updated Jun 17, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 7, 2017.


Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act or the HOT CARS Act of 2017

This bill directs the Department of Transportation to issue a final rule to require that all new passenger motor vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds be equipped with a system for rear seating positions to alert (by an auditory and visual alert that may be combined with a haptic alert) the motor vehicle operator to check rear designated seating positions after the vehicle motor is deactivated.

A state shall use a portion of its highway safety program funds to educate the public on the risks of leaving a child or unattended passenger in a vehicle after the vehicle motor is deactivated.