Ever since Tyler Sestia dropped off his son, Thomas, in his truck on a hot June morning two years ago, he has felt like a cork being tossed in the ocean, he said.
It was June 14, 2021, and Mr. Sestia was preparing for a stressful audit at work when he forgot to drop Thomas off at the babysitter on his way to his office in New Iberia, La.
At lunchtime, he accompanied the auditor to a restaurant and then went back to his office.
That afternoon, he realized that he didn’t remember seeing the babysitter that morning. He ran to his truck where he found Thomas in his car seat behind the driver’s seat. Thomas, who was two and a half years old, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It was a complete shock,” said Mr. Sestia, 37, who lives in New Iberia with his wife, Pam, and their two other children. “It’s almost like a nightmare that’s not real. I am living in a temporary world which is not real. And once you are out of it, it is a daily hassle.
Mr. Sestia said he has overcome extreme grief with the help of his religious faith and therapy. He has also got the support of his wife.
“People think, ‘Oh, how does someone do that?'” Pam Sestia said. “Don’t forget your cellphone. Don’t forget this. But he was intensely focused on something else. He is not a bad parent. He’s not a bad father.”
In other cases the consequences have been more severe. Marriages have broken up. The carers were prosecuted and faced prison sentences. In a case last year in Chesterfield, Virginia, a father realized what he had done, immediately went home and killed himself.
And yet deaths come. Police said this week a 3-month-old baby died after being left unattended in a car in Houston. About 40 children die from heatstroke in cars each year, either because they are left in the vehicle or because they become trapped. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
This equates to an average of one child dying in a hot car every 10 days in the United States. Deaths are more common in summer but occur in every month of the year.
Child-protection advocates said new technology could help prevent these repeated tragedies. For example, vehicles with interior motion sensors can honk and send an alert to the driver’s phone if a child is detected in the back seat after the car has stopped.
But automakers and regulators have not made the technology standard equipment in new vehicles, frustrating safety experts. According to children and car safety, A nonprofit group says 1,050 children have died in hot cars nationwide since 1990 and at least 7,300 others survived with varying degrees of injury.
“It really should be a shame on the automakers and the government that this hasn’t been noticed already,” said Janet E. Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Car Safety. “When you have the technology to prevent these deaths, and it’s not expensive, what are we waiting for?”
Federal regulators said they are developing rules that would require lights and chimes in new vehicles to remind drivers to check the back seat after turning off the car, as required. $1 trillion infrastructure law President Biden signed in 2021. But that requirement won’t go into effect until 2025.
are also major automakers promised it by 2025 All new vehicles will include basic back-seat reminder systems. As of last October, more than 150 models offered reminders, According to The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which said in a statement that the industry is making “major progress” toward its goal of universal back-seat reminders.
But high-tech systems that use radar or ultrasonic sensors to detect a child in the back seat are relatively rare.
“It is a matter of cost and demand,” he said Emily A. ThomasThe manager of auto safety at Consumer Reports, who believes that child detection systems should be standard in new vehicles. “People don’t know that’s what they need, so there’s not a huge demand for it and, unfortunately, the auto industry reacts to what’s needed. So if it’s not needed, they’re not going to have it as standard equipment.”
About half of hot-car deaths lead to criminal charges ranging from child endangerment to murder, According to Child and Car Safety. The group said that many parents and caregivers resort to plea bargains to avoid going to jail and because they are not prepared to face a court battle after a child’s death.
The psychological underpinnings of the problem have been discussed for years, at least since 2009, when The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten wrote Pulitzer Prize Winning Articles Figuring out whether criminal charges are actually appropriate for parents who accidentally kill their children by leaving them in cars remains to be seen.
David M. Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who was quoted in that story, has since been patiently explaining the issue, including in a documentary film, “fatal distraction,Which was released in 2021.
Dr. Diamond said most deaths occur when parents drive to work and “go into autopilot mode and lose awareness of the child in the back seat.”
During the drive, the part of the brain that handles habitual behaviors like commuting “out-competes and suppresses” the conscious memory system, Dr. Diamond said, which helps parents remember the child at day care. In is responsible for reminding to stop and quit. Stressed and sleep-deprived parents are especially vulnerable to this problem, she said.
“That’s why we need technology because, frankly, we’re very forgetful,” Dr. Diamond said in an interview. “I try to emphasize to people that it’s not neglect, it’s not bad parenting, it’s just part of being human.”
Many newer vehicles have reminder lights and chimes to advise drivers to check the back seat when the car is turned off. Those systems are usually triggered by a rear door being opened before or during a trip, but they can’t actually detect if there’s a child in the car.
Ultrasonic sensors found in some Kia And Hyundai The vehicle can detect a child (or pet) moving around in the back seat after the vehicle is locked, and then sound the horn and send a text message to the driver. But Dr. Thomas said that ultrasonic sensors cannot detect a child sleeping in a rear-facing car seat.
The radar-based systems can reportedly detect even minor movements like the rise and fall of the chest of a child sleeping in a car seat. at least one vehicle, Genesis GV70That’s the specialty of the technique.
In March, the Federal Communications Commission a specific frequency cleared For short-range radar, which automakers say Deploying child detection radar will be much easier inside cars. Prior to this, companies had to seek an exemption from the FCC.
While radar technology isn’t widely available, safety advocates said drivers could try to check the back seat by placing an important item like a purse, phone, wallet or even one of their shoes next to the child. You can remind yourself.
Cestias has its own system. Every morning at 8:05 they text each other to make sure their one and a half year old child is left with the babysitter.
He has also spoken strongly in favor of mandating child detection technology in cars.
Pam Sestia said, “This is an opportunity for me to be a mother to Thomas and to advocate for him.” “His story may help save other lives.”