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Using Technology to Keep Kids Safe in Cars

Here’s how automakers are using alerts, sensors, and other technology to help keep children from perishing in hot cars.

So far this year, 40 children who were either left in or trapped in hot cars have perished due to heatstroke, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These highly-preventable tragedies impact children because their body temperatures rise three to five times faster than that of an adult.

With heatstroke taking hold when the core body temperature reaches about 104°—and with 107° being considered “lethal”—children are especially susceptible. To help combat the problem and reduce the number of children who perish in hot cars, automakers will be making rear-seat reminder systems standard in nearly all passenger vehicles by 2025.

The automaker-led voluntary commitment is the industry’s latest effort to help enhance child safety and expands upon widespread efforts to increase public awareness regarding the dangers of leaving children alone in a vehicle, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Auto Alliance) said in a news statement.

According to USA Today, the Alliance’s announcement followed a particularly deadly stretch this summer, with 10 children dying in hot cars within a 20-day period. It said that a few automakers—General Motors, Nissan, Hyundai/Kia, and Subaru, for instance—have announced or already offer rear seat reminder systems that are available or standard on numerous models.

According to the Alliance, automakers will be introducing numerous approaches to help parents and caregivers remember to check the back seat as they leave a vehicle. At minimum, these prompts will include a combination of auditory and visual alerts that will activate after a driver turns off the vehicle.

Sensor Alerts

Sensors are playing a key role in helping automakers find new ways to keep kids safe in their cars. In “Parents plead with GM: follow through on promise to help prevent hot car deaths”, WTHR NBC reports that the technology to help prevent hot car fatalities is currently being used by a few automakers. Hyundai, for example, currently offers an “ultrasonic rear occupant alert” system on some of its Santa Fe and Palisade SUVs.

Using three motion sensors, the system is designed to detect any type of movement in the vehicle after a driver exits. The alert system includes an alarm, a sounding of the car’s horn, and flashing of its headlights. The Blue Link telemetrics system then sends a text message and an email to the driver to alert him or her that someone is in the vehicle.

“The backseat sensor system now comes standard on high-end Santa Fe and Palisade vehicles and is available as an upgrade to lower-end models as part of Hyundai’s $2,250 convenience package,” WTHR reports, noting that Hyundai will be expanding the technology to additional Hyundai vehicles as optional equipment by 2022. Kia also offers a similar technology in some of its vehicles.

Innovative Approaches

Accounting for nearly 100% of the U.S. light-duty vehicle sales, members of the Alliance and the Association of Global Automakers joined forces to develop the voluntary commitment.  It will give new car buyers access to the safety features faster than would have been possible under a government rulemaking process. Such rulemaking efforts traditionally take four to eight years to finalize, the Auto Alliance points out.

“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 David Schwietert, the Alliance’s interim president and CEO, in the statement. “Automakers have come together to develop a pathway forward, which not only incorporates existing systems, but also supports new, innovative approaches.”

The Auto Alliance says there are also several cell phone apps available, plus child car seats that include alarm features, both of which can help remind drivers that there’s a child in the vehicle.

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