With the death of a 16-month-old boy who spent nine hours in a hot car in Burnaby, B.C., people are wondering what can be done to prevent such an incident from happening again — especially as temperatures rise for the summer.
Technology is available to notify parents when they leave children in their vehicles’ back seats — but one expert who has focused on the issue cautioned that such innovations are not the only solution, nor even necessarily the best one.
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As many as seven children have died in hot cars between 2003 and 2018. The Burnaby child’s death is the first such incident to take place this year, according to KidsandCars.org, a website that documents incidents involving children being left unattended in vehicles.
Meanwhile, in the United States, an average of 38 hot car deaths happens every year in the United States, according to NoHeatStroke.org, a website that tracks child vehicular heatstroke deaths.
There were 52 child vehicular heatstroke deaths in the U.S. last year, according to that site.
That was the most that took place in any year going back to 1998. The numbers have climbed in each of the past three years.
Jan Null, the website’s founder and an instructor at San Jose State University, doesn’t see an upward trend despite growing numbers in recent years.
He applauds technological answers to the problem of vehicular heatstroke deaths and “every life that they might save.”
However, he warned that such innovations will largely function in cases where a parent has forgotten a child in a vehicle — and that’s not always what happens in these incidents.
“They’re not going to affect the kids who accidentally get in cars,” Null told Global News.
Null has divided vehicular heatstroke deaths into three types of incidents.
The first is when children are forgotten by their caregivers. That was what happened in 54 per cent of cases since 1998, he said.
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The second is when children gain access to a vehicle on their own. That covers just over 26 per cent of cases in the same time frame.
Finally, there are incidents when caregivers have knowingly left their children in vehicles. That’s what happened in just under 19 per cent of cases, according to the website.
Given an average of just under 40 deaths every year in the U.S., if a device could be installed in every vehicle on the road, “we would be only saving about 20” kids, Null said.
“Every life that is saved is wonderful,” he said. “But it’s not the panacea.”
For Null, education and awareness are key to preventing vehicular heatstroke deaths.
Nevertheless, technology exists for parents who are willing to try it out.
Here are four examples of technology designed to keep parents from forgetting their children in their vehicles:
Cybex — SensorSafe Technology
The clip will send an alert to a driver’s cell phone for numerous situations, including when a child has been left alone in a vehicle.
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SensorSafe can also notify emergency contacts about a vehicle’s location when a child has been left inside.
The technology likewise sends notifications when a child has unbuckled the clip, or when the vehicle has become too hot or cold.
Kars 4 Kids Safety App
The Kars 4 Kids Safety App is designed to remind drivers when there’s a young one in the vehicle’s backseat.
The app sets off an alarm when the driver leaves the car, reminding a parent to collect a child.
Kars 4 Kids’ safety app is compatible with Bluetooth.
Parents can add photos of their children and customize ringtones to ensure they never forget.
Waze — child reminder
In 2016, traffic navigation company Waze introduced a “child reminder” feature to its app, in an effort to help keep parents from leaving their children in vehicles.
The app will send a notification when a driver has finished a trip.
The reminder will tell drivers, “check your car before you leave.”
Parents have to activate the feature themselves in the “General Settings” section — it’s purely an opt-in function, ABC News reported.
‘The BackSeat’ app
“The BackSeat” is an app designed by Arizona father Erin J. O’Connor with the aim of ensuring young ones are never left behind in vehicles.
First, the user will set a “trip start” speed that activates the app when you’re driving. Then, they can register whether they have children aboard.
Once done, and the vehicle starts, the app will be triggered when it reaches “trip start” speed.
When the trip is finished, it will send drivers a notification, reminding them to check the back seat.
Drivers can then put “the BackSeat” to sleep until they hop in their vehicles again.
General Motors – Rear Seat Reminder
General Motors has “Rear Seat Reminder” technology that is now standard on company models including the Yukon, the Canyon, the Sierra, the Acadia and the Terrain.
Rear Seat Reminder notifies parents to check the back seat under certain conditions, the company said on its website.
While the technology doesn’t spot objects that have been placed in the back seat, it can monitor the back doors.
Rear Seat Reminder is intended to activate when the back doors are opened or closed within 10 minutes of the vehicle starting, or when they’re opened and closed while it’s operating.
Turn the vehicle off, and the technology will set off five chimes and a message in the Driver Information Center, reminding users to check the back.