With temperatures exceeding 90 degrees outside, “Billy the Kid” sat in a child safety seat in a locked pickup truck for more than two hours during a public safety demonstration Wednesday.
“For the last few years, even though there is information out there, children are still dying from heatstroke when they are left or locked in unattended vehicles,” Waco police Community Outreach Officer Sofie Martinez said. “Not only do I want to prevent any more tragedies in Texas, but I don’t want any here in our community.”
The same day as the demonstration, three congressmen filed a bill that would require new cars to come with devices to prevent children being left in hot cars.
Martinez and the Texas HeatStroke Task Force demonstrated the dangers of a child, pet or any person being left or trapped in a vehicle during hot Texas weather. Officers and representatives placed a doll, named “Billy the Kid,” in a safety seat with a gauge reading the outside and in-car temperatures. With the outside temperature in the low 90s, the inside of the truck rose to 160 degrees within a couple of hours.
“Even leaving a kid in a car for a minute can be extremely dangerous,” Martinez said. “The temperature keeps rising in the car, and a pet or a child in a car seat cannot open the door.”
Since 1998, 709 children have died as a result of heatstroke from being left in cars, according to noheatstroke.org. Nine children have died this year, including three in Texas, said Texas Heatstroke Task Force Chair Johnny Humphreys.
“I say that one death is too many, but all those deaths are very preventable,” Humphreys said. “I know that is probably unrealistic to ask for, but for me, the key is to establish the right routines, especially if you have young children, so those things, these tragedies, don’t happen.”
In response to continued tragedies, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio; Peter King, R-N.Y; and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act, or HOT CARS Act, on Wednesday. The bipartisan group introduced the bill this week to coincide with the kick-off to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Vehicular Heatstroke Prevention Campaign, according to a press release on the bill.
The bill would require new cars “to be equipped with a system to alert the drive if a passenger remains in the back seat when a car is turned off,” the press release states.
During the local demonstration Wednesday, Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said community outreach and education can help address dangerous heat-related illnesses and deaths, particularly in Texas.
“We have 90-degree days on Christmas or Thanksgiving in Texas, unfortunately, and we are just getting to that part of the year where we might get a larger number of these types of calls,” Holt said. “But this can happen year-round.”
Caretakers can leave themselves reminders about a pet or child in the back seat by putting an item in the back of the car they will be need at their final destination, and, if anyone sees a person or pet in a vehicle that appears to be in distress, call 911, Humphreys said.