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Could legislation help save children from dying in hot cars? Some lawmakers say yes

WATCH: The tragic death of a 16-month-old boy inside a hot car in Burnaby has shaken many. As Julia Foy reports, the B.C. government said it's open to looking at ways to prevent this from happening in the future.

As flowers are laid outside the scene in Burnaby where a 16-month-old boy died after spending nine hours inside a hot car Thursday, questions are swirling over how to prevent a similar tragedy.

Those questions have recently reached as far as the U.S. Congress, where lawmakers have supported legislation that would make technology that detects presence in back seats mandatory in new vehicles.

On Saturday, B.C.’s public safety minister said he would be open to considering similar legislation.

WATCH: (Aired May 10) Police investigation begins after toddler dies in Burnaby hot car

Police investigation begins after toddler dies in Burnaby hot car
Police investigation begins after toddler dies in Burnaby hot car

“If there’s a way to make cars safer — whether that’s through legislation or working with the federal government or seeing what’s happening in other jurisdictions — I certainly think as a province we’d be open to looking at that,” said Mike Farnworth.

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Farnworth said stories like what happened in Burnaby have become all too common, and while he supports education on the dangers of leaving children and pets in hot cars unattended, he said new technology could also play a role in reducing deaths.

READ MORE: ‘Absolutely heartbreaking’: 16-month-old boy dies after being left in hot car for 9 hours in Burnaby

“If there’s an app or some other kind of technology, I would like to see it installed in vehicles,” he said.

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Burnaby RCMP wouldn’t release any more information about the case Saturday. The parents of the boy are reportedly cooperating with police in their investigation.

How could this happen?

The tragedy has many wondering how a toddler could be left unattended for so long, but advocates say education can only achieve so much.

“You have to remember, with a lot of these small kids, you’re dealing with new parents, and they’re exhausted,” Janette Fennell with KidsandCars.org said.

Fennell pointed to several recent studies, including one published by Dr. David Diamond that found forgetting a child in a car can be linked to a failure in “prospective memory.”

WATCH: (Aired May 10) Burnaby RCMP on the death of toddler in hot car

‘It’s about diligence, vigilance, we all get tired, we’re all exhausted at certain points’: RCMP on the death of toddler in hot car
‘It’s about diligence, vigilance, we all get tired, we’re all exhausted at certain points’: RCMP on the death of toddler in hot car
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Diamond found that failure, explained as forgetting to remember to execute a plan in the future, can be heightened by a lack of sleep and stress — both common for new parents.

“It’s basically a brain malfunction,” Fennell said. “Our brains can only do so much. That’s where technology can be extremely helpful.”

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Fennell’s organization has helped advocate for the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats (HOT CARS) Act, which was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in 2017.

READ MORE: Tech could help parents prevent hot car deaths — but only in about half of cases, expert says

It would direct the Department of Transportation to issue a rule for all new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be equipped with a visual and auditory alert system to remind parents to check their back seat. The technology would also detect motion and breath.

Some technology already exists to assist parents, including smartphone apps.

General Motors has “rear seat reminder” technology standard in some of its vehicles that reminds drivers if they’ve opened the back seat before getting behind the wheel.

READ MORE: Safety checklist: How to keep your child safe from heat stroke in cars

The technology proposed by the HOT CARS Act is more comprehensive and would actually detect the presence of a living being, Fennell said.

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Despite support from Democrats and Republicans, the bill failed to reach either floor for a vote before the last Congress was dissolved. A new version of the bill is set to be introduced this year.

READ MORE: Hot cars can reach deadly temperatures in just an hour: study

According to KidsandCars.org, 52 children died in the U.S. after getting left in hot cars last year, marking an all-time high for the country. No statistics are available for Canadian cases.

Fennell said legislation should have been passed years ago, but also blamed car manufacturers for not addressing the issue themselves.

“The automakers know that we’re human, they know we can make mistakes,” she said.

“You can’t find a car now that won’t turn your headlights off for you. How is a dead battery more important than helping you remember your child?”

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