New Tech May Prevent Hot Car Child Deaths

On average, 37 children die every year due to being left in a hot car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since 1998, a devastating total of 772 children have died due to vehicular heatstroke. It’s heartbreaking that so many young lives have been lost, and although these fatalities are 100% preventable, the number continues to rise each year. Newsweek reported that as of July 24, there have been 28 hot car deaths reported so far, with an additional 3 child hot car deaths currently under investigation.

Detroit Kid Car Crash Lawyer

It is difficult to imagine that a parent or guardian could forget their child in the car, yet according to San Antonio Express News, this is the case for approximately half of the reported heatstroke incidents. While stories of children being intentionally left in hot vehicles receive a lot of media attention, this type of hot car fatality occurs less frequently. Parents do not always have to be directly involved, because the NHTSA claims that approximately every 3 in 10 heat stroke fatalities take place when children are playing and decide to climb into unattended, unlocked vehicles.

In just a few minutes, the inside of a car can climb up to 125 °F. This is a dangerous temperature for any human, but it is especially dangerous for children because, “a child's body temperatures rise 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.” For perspective, according to the NHTSA, “a core body temperature of about 107 degrees is lethal.” Temperature increases occur in the first 10 minutes after the ignition is turned off, regardless of whether the windows are rolled down or not. That is why, even if the windows are left cracked, it is never acceptable to leave children alone in vehicle.

In recent years, technology has been developed to help remind parents to check their backseat, with the goal of preventing children from being left in the vehicle. Since over half of the hot car death cases involve caretakers unintentionally forgetting children, increased use of this new technology has the potential to significantly lower the annual fatality rate. San Antonio Express News recently published an article naming three technology-based options parents can take advantage of to protect the safety of their child, which are discussed below.

In early 2018, car-seat company Cybex released “SensorSafe” technology into their Sirona model car seat. The chest buckle of the car seat is connected via bluetooth to the car and the caretaker’s cell phone. When the buckle is closed, a bluetooth connection is activated. Once the vehicle’s ignition is turned off, a series of alerts are sent to the car dashboard and the connected phone. The car buckle must be unclasped in 4 minutes, or else additional alerts will be sent, not only to the parent, but also to emergency contacts listed. Parents can choose to click either “ignore” or “acknowledge” on the notification itself, showing that they were indeed aware that their child was still in the car seat. Once the belt is unclasped, the bluetooth connection is deactivated. While the Sirona car seat retails for $329.99, it uses cutting edge technology that could be extremely helpful to parents who can afford to purchase it.

Waze

Waze

Car manufacturers are also aware of the problem surrounding child hot car deaths. In 2017, General Motors added a rear-seat reminder system to over 20 of their models. It’s only standard on 10 Chevrolet models, but it can be selected as an add on feature to others. It simply works by sending the driver an alert to remind them that they opened the rear door of their vehicle after they turn off the ignition. This is a great option for any parent looking to buy a new car, but is not practical for those who are currently content with the vehicle they own. For these parents, they can download an app called Waze. In 2016, the popular navigation app added a “Child Reminder” feature, which when activated, sends the driver a notification to, “check your car before you leave” once the destination is reached. This solution is completely free and only requires that the parent inputs their destination once they enter the vehicle, which they might already have done to receive navigational directions.

Most people have experienced the feeling of discomfort after getting into a car that has been sitting in the sun. Now imagine being a child and being unable to escape the excruciating heat. This is a situation that should never happen. Taking advantage of technology like the Cybex “SensorSafe” car seat or the Waze App “Child Reminder” feature can help prevent the fatalities that result from leaving kids unintentionally in vehicles. However, technology may not be an option for all families. Something all parents can do that is free and simple is to, “look before you lock,” as recommended by the NHTSA. It’s an easy habit that could potentially be life saving. With daily life increasingly revolving around cellphones, it is even suggested that parents put their phones or something important like a briefcase or groceries in the backseat to help remind them to check for their child. Ultimately, parents need to find a effective solution, whether it involves technology or not, that works for them and ensures their child does not become another statistic.


Unfortunately, stories of children and pets left alone in hot cars every time summer rolls around has become all too common. While it’s easy to get distracted in today’s nonstop world, parents need to make the safety of their children their number one priority. No matter how hectic life gets, it is never okay to leave a child or a pet in a hot car. Parents should always check the back seat when they reach their destination, and lock their car after making sure no one is inside. For a free legal consultation with an experienced accident attorney regarding any type of auto accident, call The Michigan Law Firm, PC at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.

2017 Has Record Number of Hot Car Child Deaths

In June, The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC blog wrote about a newborn child who was abandoned in an unknown car during an extremely hot summer day. While this Grand Rapids, Michigan baby was thankfully uninjured, issues relating to children being left alone in cars are only becoming more urgent as 2017 has seen more hot car deaths than any year before.

Hot Car Death Lawyer

As reported by CNN, the end of July 2017 marks the highest number of hot car deaths ever recorded from the beginning of the year to the end of July. As of July 31st, 29 children died of heatstroke and other heat related problems after being left alone, trapped inside a sweltering hot car. The previous record was held in 2010 after 28 children died from heatstroke before August 1st. Ultimately, 48 children died in hot car incidents in 2010.

In 2001, Jan Null, a certified consulting meteorologist for the past 40 years with the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University, began recording hot car deaths. Null conducted an experiment when he first began researching temperature levels of parked cars that are left to absorb heat on warm days. He placed a thermometer outside of the car that measured the natural outside temperature, and then placed one inside a car that had air conditioning on, but had just been parked and locked. The results were surprising.

In the first ten minutes, Null found that the temperature can rise 19°F (Fahrenheit) in a sitting parked car. When conducting the experiment at 70°F outside, he stated that the temperature inside the car rose to 89°F after ten minutes. Similarly, when he conducted the experiment starting with 90°F temperature, the car’s temperature rose to 109°F in just ten minutes. When commenting on his experiment, Null stated, "you get to these very high temperatures very rapidly. How hot it got was one surprise, but how fast it got to a deadly temperature was even more unexpected.” Null further explains that among medical professionals, 104°F is generally accepted as heat stroke range, and 107°F can prove fatal to the human body. According to Null, the temperature inside a parked car on an 80°F day can rise to 109°F just after 20 minutes! 

Hot Car Child Death

So, why is this increase in car temperature on a hot day important for child safety? Well, CNN also noted that “according to the Mayo Clinic, kids are far more susceptible to falling victim to summer heat because their bodies are not fully developed, thus rendering them less able to cope with extremely hot temperatures. Children's body temperatures rise five times faster than that of an adult’s. The danger of a rising temperature is that it can cause heatstroke. Heatstroke can result in permanent brain, heart or kidney damage, and even death. The temperature of the body rises because when a person is dehydrated, they lose their ability to sweat. That is, they lose their ability to rid their body of heat and cool themselves down, which results in the rapid increase of one’s body temperature.”

According to Jan Null, an average of 37 children die each year due to hot car related incidents. Since 1998, he states that 729 children have died of heatstroke after being trapped inside of cars. 

In response to these issues, legislation has just recently been passed to help prevent wrongful deaths of children who are left alone in hot cars. On July 31, 2017 U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS Act 2017). According to Kids and Cars.org, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires in this legislation, that in the next two years, all new vehicles must be equipped with visual and audio technology that notifies drivers to check their backseat for children before they exit their car. The Act also requires research into the implementation of these reminder systems into older cars as well. 

General Motors has already implemented technology in their cars to to remind parents to check their back seats for children. The Rear Seat Reminder is a feature that detects rear door usage rather than any objects on the seat. The feature is designed to just remind drivers to check their back seats, regardless of what might be there. 

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Jan Null believes the HOT CARS Act and new safety features implemented in cars will help deter heat illness-related deaths of children, however, he warns that they will not protect all children. Null explains that the Act fails to address two other causes of hot car deaths: children gaining access to vehicles by themselves and then being unable to exit the car, and parents just making the very poor choice of leaving their children alone in a car for a period of time. He believes making sure cars are always locked, teaching children that cars are not an area for play, and making sure car keys are always out of reach of children, will help deter hot car incidents as well. 

Children should never be left alone in cars, regardless of the circumstance and period of time in which they will be alone. Stories of children dying from being left alone in hot cars are both tragic and sickening. That fact that Americans broke the record for most recorded hot car deaths to children in the first seven months of this year, should be cause for grave concern. However, it is reassuring to know that more is being done to address this issue such as the introduction of the HOT CAR Act of 2017 and designing of car safety features to remind drivers to check their back seat for children before exiting their vehicle. The bottom line is that children are too young to cope with intense weather conditions, and must always be supervised and should never be left alone in a hot car.