How technology can prevent deaths in hot cars

For most parents, forgetting a child in the back seat of the car seems impossible.

But year after year, it happens.

A 2019 study by the Hospital for Sick Children found that, on average, one child dies each year in Canada because they were stuck in a hot vehicle. Usually, it’s because the driver forgot they were there.

Last week, tragedy struck a Greater Montreal suburb after a child was found dead in the back seat of a car on a hot day.

Incidents like this can be avoided, experts say, especially with the use of technology.

CTV News spoke with Denis Gingras, director of the Intelligent Vehicle Laboratory (LIV) at Université de Sherbrooke, who shared the benefits of this life-saving technology.

Rear SEAT ALERT SYSTEMS

While not yet the norm for modern vehicles, built-in warning systems are an effective way to remind drivers to check the back seat before locking it, according to Gingras.

While the details vary, the basic idea is this: Open the back door to put the baby in the car seat. The alert system makes a note of it. You drive, you park. Get out of the car.

If the back door remains closed, an alarm sounds. You take the baby out of the car.

But considering the average lifespan of a car is between 10 and 15 years, many families won’t have access to this built-in technology for quite some time.

“The technology in general is there. It’s just a matter of implementing it and making it available to the larger public,” Gingras said.

In the meantime, he recommends installing a commercial system.

“Perhaps we should consider, in the short term, aftermarkets, where independent companies and level companies could sell devices that could improve the vehicle if it is not already equipped with this kind of technology.”

A variety of these products have come on the market in recent years and can be found online.

CAR SEAT SENSORS

Another potentially life-saving gadget is the car seat sensor.

This tool works by detecting whether a child is hooked or not. If the car is turned off but the presence of a child is detected, an alert is sent to the driver.

The sensor is built into the car seat or, like some rear seat alert systems, can be purchased separately.

Car seat sensors are relatively new, meaning they’re “more or less” reliable, Gingras said, but they’re certainly better than nothing.

“Even if we have some false alarms or we have a very small proportion of incidents that go undetected, at least if we can save the majority of babies.”

Expect technology and availability to evolve with demand

If “even one life” is saved, it is worth it.

IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE

Research has found that so-called ‘forgotten baby syndrome’ is particularly common when parents are getting used to a new routine.

The situation is only exacerbated by stress and lack of sleep, factors that most parents of young children are familiar with.

In 2021, a coroner’s report found that a Montreal father was tired and stressed when he left his six-month-old son in the car, leading to his untimely death.

To make matters worse, the baby had recently started a new daycare routine that his father wasn’t used to yet.

While changing the nature of stress and memory is difficult, driving the implementation of new technologies is within our reach, Gingras said.

“Legislators, government agencies should put more pressure on the car manufacturers and on the manufacturers of child seats,” he said.

“[We need to] getting these technologies into vehicles as soon as possible.”

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