Politics & Government

After Wicker bill, auto makers move to prevent hot car deaths

Father of dead 3-year-old says her death could have been prevented

Ryan Hyer questions why the mother of their daughter, Cassie Barker, is still free after their daughter, 3, was found unresponsive in her car in September. Barker, a former Long Beach police officer, had been investigated in 2015 by DHS after Gulf
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Ryan Hyer questions why the mother of their daughter, Cassie Barker, is still free after their daughter, 3, was found unresponsive in her car in September. Barker, a former Long Beach police officer, had been investigated in 2015 by DHS after Gulf

A bevy of automobile manufactures have announced plans to help prevent accidental deaths of children left in cars by voluntarily installing warning systems in new vehicle models.

This move by auto makers comes on the heels of efforts by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who has used his influential perch as chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to push forward legislation that would have required alert systems in passenger vehicles.

In a Wednesday interview with the Daily Journal in Tupelo, Wicker hailed the decision by private industry to comply with safety measures without federal mandates.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Wicker. “This is a major accomplishment.”

Members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers announced on Wednesday afternoon their plans to install backseat warning systems. These trade organizations account for almost all vehicles sold in the United States.

These organizations include domestic and foreign companies like General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota.

“Under this commitment, automakers will innovate by introducing a wide range of approaches to help parents and caregivers remember to check the back seat as they leave a vehicle,” according to a written statement from the trade organizations. “At a minimum, these prompts will include a combination of auditory and visual alerts that will activate after a driver turns off the vehicle.

Under the agreement, vehicles must have the warning technology no later than the 2025 model year.

In May, Wicker, along with co-sponsors Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced the Hot Cars Act.

The Commerce Committee in July passed the bill on a voice vote, and a companion bill had been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This bill would have required a number of actions, including the installation of the warning systems auto manufactures have now agreed to make a standard feature.

Wicker said voluntary agreements will allow warning systems to enter vehicles more quickly than would have occurred following a potentially protracted lawmaking process and will allow the Senate to allot its limited floor time to other issues.

Advocacy organizations have identified 39 hot car deaths of children this year alone, including one such death last month in Booneville.

Citing a number of such deaths in the state – including the death of a child who’d taken swimming lessons with his granddaughter – Wicker said he was moved to take action on the issue.

“When it starts happening in your neighborhood, your home state, it becomes very real,” Wicker said. “It struck me that this could happen to anybody.”

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