OAKLAND PARK, Fla. – Florida ranks No. 2 in the country when it comes to tragedies involving children dying in hot cars. A potential new law and technology is part of a nationwide effort to save lives.
"Every day I turn on the news, someone has left a child in the car," said Patrice Gethers, whose baby cousin lost his life in a hot car this past summer.
She told Local 10 News Amy Viteri each new tragic child death is like re-living a nightmare after what her family went through.
"He was a happy little baby," she said of 2-year-old Noah Sneed. "He always smiled. He loves to play."
On July 29, Noah’s mother sent him off on a day care transport van in the morning. He never made it inside. A worker at Ceressa's Enrichment & Empowerment Academy in Oakland Park allegedly shut off a safety alarm on the van before waiting to ensure all the children were out of the van. By the time Noah's overheated body was found after 3 p.m. that afternoon, it was too late.
Engrid Thurston was charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter in connection with Noah's death.
According to Kidsandcars.org, a group working to stop vehicle injuries and deaths involving children, 2019 is nearing a record-high for children dying in hot vehicles across the country. This year, a total of 53 children have died, the most recent one on Nov. 13 in California after an 18-month-old boy was left in a hot car. So far, five children have died in hot cars in Florida this year.
Now a potential new law, the Hot Cars Act of 2019, is being considered in Congress. It would require a system in all vehicles to detect a child, or even a pet, who may be in danger. Some vehicle manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia have already introduced models with these safety features.
The systems provide an alert to check the back seat when the car is turned off. They take it a step further, sensing motion inside after the car has been locked, sounding the horn and flashing lights to alert bystanders that someone is in danger.
"The technology exists. It's readily available. It's affordable," explained Amber Rollins, director of Kidsandcars.org. "There's no excuse why it's not being included in every single vehicle in our country."
"There should not be a child that dies because of this," U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said.
The South Florida representative is a co-sponsor on the bill and said she's optimistic it will come up for a vote this year.
"This is an easy fix and it's too bad we have to do legislation, but we do," she added.
In September, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers announced a voluntary commitment to add reminder systems to new cars. In a statement, the organization said it would give consumers "access to safety features faster than would have been possible under a government rulemaking process."
But, Rollins said, a voluntary agreement is not enough. She pointed to an announcement from General Motors in 2001 announcing similar plans for sensors to protect children by 2004.
"It's 2019, and they still haven't done it," she said.
Ceressa's has since closed its doors. In its place, a new childcare facility, Babyville Preschool Learning Center, is set to open by the end of the year. Owner Renae Ellis said she's in favor of any technology to help keep kids in her care safe.
"It's an extra safety precaution for human life," Ellis said. "So you can't go wrong when you're protecting human life."
Gethers said she knows these protections are too late for too many children. But they may be just in time to save the next one.