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Tallahassee

Thompson, Bracy Davis file bills to prevent tots dying in hot cars

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By
Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Saturday, December 30, 2023

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State Sen. Geraldine Thompson's bill, SB 690, would require parents and caregivers who drive children (6 and under) to install a rear-seat reminder system in their car if their vehicle is not already equipped with one to help prevent babies and toddlers from dying in hot cars.

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Kids + cars + heat can be a lethal combination, particularly in Florida, which logged a summer of record triple digit temperatures.


This year, Florida also led the nation in children’s car-related heatstroke deaths, according to Janette E. Fennell, founder and president of the advocacy organization Kids and Car Safety. “It was a bad year for Florida,” she said by phone.


Between February and October, seven Florida toddlers, ages 10 months to 2 years old, perished after being left in cars. Temperatures inside cars can jump as high as 125F in a matter of minutes, even when the outside temperatures are relatively cool, according to a Kids and Car Safety fact sheet. And despite the popular misconception, cracking a window does not help lower interior car temperatures.


In terms of total children’s car-related heatstroke deaths, Florida ranks second after Texas — 111 child deaths since 1990 compared to 152 in the Lone Star State — according to data supplied by Kids and Car SafetyBut this is one of those categories where being at the bottom of the pack is something to strive for. 


Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson is trying to move the needle on children’s hot car deaths with Senate Bill 690, which she filed in early December. On Wednesday, Democratic state Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis of Ocoee filed the companion bill, House Bill 1037, in the House.


Thompson, who represents Winter Garden, Oakland and Windermere, told VoxPopuli this was her “priority bill” for the upcoming legislative session, starting Jan. 9.


Federal legislation already mandates that audio and visual rear-seat reminder technology be installed as standard equipment in new vehicles as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Fennell said the federal regulations still need to be written, but at least three car-makers, General Motors, Kia and Hyundai, have implemented some type of rear-seat reminder technology. Cars.com reported that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and The Association of Global Automakers, which represent the majority of the vehicles sold in the U.S., have committed to installing rear-seat reminder technology on 2025 models.


Of course, not everyone drives a new car. Which is where Thompson’s state legislation, if passed, could help.


The state legislation, known as the Jace Lucas Leslie Act, would require that anyone who's driving a child age 6 and under to install an alarm system if their vehicle is not equipped with one. The bill also calls for daycares and schools to institute procedures for notifying emergency contacts if a child doesn’t arrive at the scheduled time. It also mandates the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to mount a public awareness campaign about the need for rear-seat reminder alarm systems and where to find them.


Both Orange County Public School buses and daycare vans are required to have alarms to remind drivers to check seats before exiting those vehicles. Thompson said she wanted to give car drivers a similar reminder.


“As people become more distracted, we have more incidents of children being left in cars,” Thompson said in a November interview. “It’s tragic. You’ve lost a child. That parent is never going to get over it. It’s a tragedy on so many levels.”


The legislation is named for Jace Lucas Leslie who died in September 2020 when his caregiver forgot to take him to daycare and drove to work instead. Leslie was left in the car for more than seven hours in 90F heat. Channel 6 reported that she realized her mistake when she went to pick him up from daycare and discovered she had never dropped him off. She was arrested, but the charges were later dropped because the baby had not intentionally been left in the car.


Under Thompson’s bill, violations would be charged as noncriminal traffic infractions, which may include community service hours, fines and drivers license suspension.

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