Hot Cars and Child Safety

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We’ve heard the heartbreaking stories of a sleep-deprived parent, a hot car, an infant and a mistake that will haunt them for the rest of their life. In 2023, 29 children lost their lives in this manner. The reality is that nontraffic, car-related child deaths are not limited to a child’s being left unattended in a vehicle. There are many dangers when it comes to kids and cars, but there are also steps we can all take to eliminate fatal outcomes.

According to the Kids and Car Safety organization, roughly 2,400 child or infant deaths occur each year from nontraffic accidents related to vehicles. Nontraffic incidents are injuries or deaths that occur in or around vehicles; but take place off public roads or highways, mainly in parking lots or driveways.

These incidents include backovers, frontovers, heat stroke, power window strangulation or amputation, vehicles inadvertently knocked into gear, trunk entrapment, seat belt strangulation, vehicle submersion and underage drivers. Those statistics are on the decline thanks to legislation and increased public awareness, but there is still work to be done. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden in 2021, federal regulators are developing rules to require new vehicles to have signals such as lights and chimes to remind drivers to check the back seat after they turn off a car. That requirement is set to go into effect in 2025.

Nevertheless, these warning signals can give drivers a false sense of security. Newer technology uses radar sensors that detect motion within the car. Volvo’s EX90 electric SUV has a new interior radar system that monitors the entire vehicle to ensure young kids and pets aren’t left behind. “The new system uses a series of radar sensors in the overhead console, roof-mounted reading lamps and cargo area to detect even tiny movements throughout the car,” according to Volvo spokesperson Thomas Schultz, who says the reminder is more effective after the driver attempts to lock the vehicle. If the driver tries to lock the vehicle while a child or animal is detected inside, the lock function is disabled and an alert is displayed on the center console screen. In addition, the vehicle’s climate system will remain on when occupants are detected in order to reduce the risk of heatstroke or hypothermia so long as the vehicle’s battery has sufficient charge.”

Technology company Continental has expanded its digital access system with a potentially lifesaving Child Presence Detection function that uses ultra-wideband technology to detect a child left alone in the vehicle cabin and sends out a warning within seconds. “That existing sensor system can be repurposed to detect a car’s own radio signal bouncing back off objects inside the car,” said David Muscat, chief engineer at Continental. “If one of these things is moving, even slightly, that indicates there’s something alive inside the parked car.” The child detection technology relies on radio frequencies used to communicate with a smartphone as part of a phone-as-a-key system using radio signals and sensors.

But parents or caregivers can take steps daily to form safe habits. The Look Before You Lock mantra is shared as education cards for new parents that have been distributed to hospitals and birthing centers nationwide to help educate parents at the beginning of their child’s life. Leaving items such as purses or briefcases in the backseat next to their sleeping child can jar memories and prevent fatal mistakes. Other suggestions are to leave a stuffed animal in the car seat and place it in the front after strapping the child in the car seat. Keys and remote openers should never be left within reach of children, and car doors should be locked at all times.

Backover accidents account for around 42 percent of all nontraffic related auto fatalities involving children each year and frontovers account for another 22 percent. Sadly, most of the time it’s a relative behind the wheel, often a parent, who runs the child over with the family vehicle. When backing out of or entering a driveway or garage, take note where the child is at all times. Kids are low to the ground and many of today’s vehicles are large enough to have blind spots on all four sides. Have someone else hold infants or toddlers and have younger children stand in a safe zone, such as a front step or inside a porch, to make sure they are in eyesight at all times.

By being aware and working together, everyone can strive for zero accidents and deaths for children.

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