Summer is fully upon us, unfortunately, it’s a time of year accompanied by headlines about the tragic deaths of children left in hot cars. More than 800 children have suffered fatal heatstroke in hot cars since 1990, including 12 so far this year. The children that have died have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age. In 2016, the number of children that suffered vehicular heatstroke deaths hit a two year high of 39, breaking what advocates hoped was a downward trend. The deaths of most of these children can be blamed on sheer forgetfulness – since 2002, 54% of recorded deaths occurred when a parent or caretaker unintentionally forgot a child in the car. 28% occur when a child accidentally locks himself inside of a car (which often included child lock features in the back seat), and 17% occur when someone intentionally locks a child in the car. The circumstances in the remaining one percent of cases are unknown. One of the things these caretakers may not fully understand is how quickly a car heats up — and how hot it can get. According to “noheatstroke.org” founder Jan Null, on days when the external air temperature exceeds 86 degrees, the air in a car can reach 154 degrees. The air temperature inside a car rises, on average, 40 degrees with 80 percent of that occurring in the first thirty minutes. Most notable, perhaps, is that the air temperature outside the car does not affect how quickly the temperature inside the car rises. And the trick of cracking a window to keep the car cooler? That doesn’t seem to make an effective difference. In a recent study of a car with all windows cracked, the temps inside raised on average +3.1 degrees per five-minute interval, rather than 3.4 degrees with the windows closed. An organization called Kids and Cars is working with lawmakers to put a stop to these preventable deaths. Last week Representatives Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) reintroduced the Hot Cars Act to ensure that an alert system is standard in every car to prevent these tragedies. In the mean time, there are already several devices on the market designed to prevent hot car deaths.
1. Sensorsafe is a technology found in some car seats from the brand Evenflo. There is a receiver that goes into your car’s diagnostics port, a socket located inside a vehicle that accesses various vehicle subsystems where small receivers can be installed to tap into a car’s computer system. That receiver communicates with the car seat’s smart chest clip – letting the driver know through a series of chimes whether a child is still in the seat after the car is turned off.
2. General Motor’s Rear Seat Reminder System: This feature in some GM cars uses back door sensors that become activated when either the rear door is opened or closed within 10 minutes of the vehicle being started, or while the vehicle is running. Under these circumstances, when you reach your destination a reminder appears on the dashboard as well as an audible chime notification. When Faris opened the rear door before starting the car and then turned off the car, this reminder popped up on the dashboard: “Rear Seat Reminder. Look In Rear Seat.”
3. Driver’s Little Helper Sensor System is a sensor system sold at several major retailers that can be put in a car seat. The sensor goes under the car seat padding where the child sits. The sensor is then attached to a battery pack and synced with an app. You can set when you want the app to send you notifications after you stop the car. You can set the interval for when you receive the notification — the fastest being a minute.
4. Waze, a popular traffic app, has a setting that will remind a driver to check his or her back seat when a destination entered into the app is reached. But it won’t alert a driver during an impromptu stop. As Faris pulled into the driveway for her Waze destination, she received an alert before she turned off the car: “Check your car before you leave.”
Other Tips – Experts recommend the following layers of protection, even if you are using some sort of electronic sensor. Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org, recommends leaving your purse or briefcase in the back seat, telling your daycare to call if you haven’t arrived as scheduled or making a habit of always looking in the back seat before you walk away from the car. “The biggest mistake that parents make is they really feel this can’t ever happen to them,” Fennell said. (Sources: ABC, Parents, noheatstroke, KidsAndCars)