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New Technology Aims to Alert Parents to Children Left in Cars

New Technology Aims to Alert Parents to Children Left in Cars

Updated to add information from General Motors.

We all think we would never, ever, ever accidentally leave our kid in a hot, locked car. No, that is something other people do. Neglectful people. Bad parents. Not us. Unfortunately, that thinking just is not true. Plenty of responsible, knowledgeable parents—a doctor, a hospital CEO, and so many others—have made the tragic mistake of leaving their children strapped into their car seats, forgetting they were in the car, often to fatal results. It happens: a change of routine, the normal exhaustion that comes with parenting, a child asleep and therefore silent, the constant rush of our schedules. And suddenly a random, one-in-a-million mistake begets the worst horror imaginable to a parent.  

There have been many attempts at technological solutions to this problem, and the latest was announced today by Nissan: The Rear Door Alert (RDA) uses a honking horn and/or dashboard warning to remind drivers to check their back seats after parking. The system, designed by two moms who are Nissan engineers, will be standard on the 2018 Pathfinder, which goes on sale in September. 

Here’s how the Nissan press release describes the system:

“RDA monitors the rear door switches to detect their open/closed status prior to and after a trip. If the system detects that a rear door was opened/closed prior to a trip, but then was not re-opened again after the trip was completed, given the vehicle was put in park and the ignition cycled off, the system responds with a series of notifications, starting with a display in the instrument panel and progressing to subtle but distinctive chirps of the horn.

“Because there are so many scenarios in which a driver might open a rear door—everything from throwing in a gym bag to cleaning the car—the RDA system is easily configurable and can be turned off temporarily or permanently through prompts in the cluster display.”

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An average of 37 children die in hot cars in the United States every year, and 11 died in July alone, according to USA Today. In the most recent tragedies to get wide attention, two Arizona children—one 7, the other 1—died in separate instances in late July.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Al Franken of Minnesota introduced a bill last month that would require new cars to include technology for alerting drivers to children left inside when the car is turned off, according to the USA Today report.

Other car makers have already introduced or are working on versions of this technology, in addition to independent companies and individuals doing the same. Nissan’s is just the latest attempt to solve this horrific problem with technology. General Motors, for instance, unveiled its own version, called Rear Seat reminder, last year. First installed in the GMCAcadia, it is now standard across all Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC vehicles, according to a GM spokesperson.  

For me, I don’t pretend to be immune from human mistakes, and I believe we can’t get this technology fast enough—let’s see it in all cars, now. I love my kids, I care for my kids and am attentive to them, and I’d like to believe I’d never make a tragic mistake like this.

But I’d sure appreciate technological help to help ensure all our kids are safe and never forgotten in a hot car.

RELATED: Find local child-safety professionals and resources to help your family.