Though rare, heatstroke deaths of children have gained national attention in recent years as busy parents have forgotten children strapped into car seats in vehicle rear seats. Several automakers have offered reminder systems to encourage parents to look back before exiting the car. In August, Hyundai pledged to make such technology standard by 2022.
“Automakers have been exploring ways to address this safety issue and this commitment underscores how such innovations and increased awareness can help children right now,” said Alliance Interim President and CEO David Schwietert. “Automakers have come together to develop a pathway forward, which not only incorporates existing systems, but also supports new, innovative approaches.”
Existing safety mandates provide the basic technology needed for such systems. Cars already must be able to detect if a person is in the passenger seat, typically by using a weight sensor. Children in forward-facing cars seats in vehicle front seats could be badly injured by rapidly expanding airbags, so sensors tell the bags to shut off if they don’t sense weight.
Similar systems could be used in rear seats, detecting whether seats are occupied to remind drivers to check. Hyundai’s system is somewhat simpler – it notes if a rear door opened before the car started, implying that a child was placed in the rear seat. In those situations, it beeps at drivers, telling them to check the back when the driver shuts off the vehicle.
Automotive trade groups have been running educational ads to raise public awareness of rear-seat heatstroke risks. The campaign stresses:
- It’s never okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle for any length of time.
- It only takes ten minutes for a vehicle’s interior temperature to rise nearly 20°.
- A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s.
- If you see a child alone in a car, call 911.