New Technology Helps Prevent Hot Car Deaths

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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How many things do you do before pulling out of your driveway with your kids? You pack the stroller. And the diaper bag. You bring snacks and drinks and books and toys. You grab extra diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes. Then you ensure that they’re secured in carseats or boosters. And you buckle them in without even thinking about it.

What if preventing a hot car death also became part of your natural routine? If it was as automatic as buckling them in? Jenni Newman, editor-in-chief of, says that’s her ultimate goal.

Newman shares with Scary Mommy that the annual average for hot car deaths (including kids who play in cars and accidentally lock themselves in) is 37. Except in 2017 there were 43. And 2018, so far, has had 28 tragedies, which makes it on track to be the deadliest year yet.

Why is this happening more than ever? Has it always been an issue and thanks to news media today, we are just more aware? Or are parents busier and more distracted than in years past? We can theorize until our heads explode, but the point is, it happens. It happens to good parents who love their children and would run through fire for them. The old narrative of “Who could possibly forget their kids?!” is tired, so if you’re still judging the parents who have had to bury a child because of this, you’re not helping. Because I’ll bet pretty much every single one of them thought “that would never happen to me” until it did.

And I’ll tell you why I know that—because it did happen to me. Twice. Yep, I forgot my babies in the car on not one, but two occasions. And you can sit there and blast me and tell me I’m a horrible mother. First of all, I’ve already beaten myself up plenty. Thankfully my babies are fine because I realized within seconds. But also, I’m not a horrible mother. I’m a damn good mom who revolves her life around her kids. And that’s why I know how easily this can happen.

Both times, I had at least one chatty toddler already, so I wasn’t used to a quiet car anymore. The older kid(s) were with my husband, so I just had a sleepy newborn with me. And the car was quiet for the first time in years. At some point during the 10 minute drive to my destination, I forgot the baby was there. Both times I realized quickly and burst into tears at my mistake, and both times I was damn lucky. But I know first hand how easily this can occur. TO GOOD PARENTS.

So we can continue to sit on our pedestals, and reign judgment down upon others, or we can take preventative measures. We can realize that we are all human. That we are all busy. That none of us parents are immune to tragedy, and all of our kids deserve to come home safely every day and live well into adulthood.

There are simple things parents can do—like leaving their purse or wallet in the back seat, or setting phone reminders for themselves. Some daycares have alert systems where they will communicate with you, the parent, if your child is just a few minutes late. And some parents set up their own systems, like texting each other daily once the child has been dropped off to ensure he/she is safe.

But even better, car manufacturers are now taking notice and developing technology that could prevent the loss of innocent children. GM was the first to come out with a system to fight this problem. It’s called the Rear Seat Reminder System, and it chimes at the end of your trip if you had opened your back doors at the start of your trip.

Another is from Nissan, which is similarly called Rear Door Alert System. This one, currently only available in the 2018 Pathfinder (a popular family car) includes a message that will display on the center panel, and the car horn will honk if you had previously opened your back doors. However, Nissan spokesperson Anne Brownlee tells Scary Mommy that RDA will be available in the Altima and Rogue next year, and that the company is committed to having it in 100% of its cars by 2020. Go Nissan!

Brownlee also shares that RDA was developed by two Nissan engineers named Elsa Foley and Marlene Mendoza, both of whom are moms as well. “The technology was spurred by a pan of lasagna left in a backseat overnight,” Brownlee says. “Pregnant at the time, Mendoza thought, ‘what if it was one of my children in that seat,’ and began collaboration with Foley, also a new mom.” Mom engineers for the win.

And finally, Hyundai’s system is a bit different. Called Rear Occupant Alert System, this one is found in the 2019 Santa Fe, a common choice for families due to its 3rd row seating option. The car actually has a movement sensor in the backseat and will flash its headlights and honk its horn if movement is detected once you’ve exited the vehicle. While this system may not help if a sleeping newborn is in a carseat and is not likely to move, it’s probably the best one to alert you if your toddler is caught in your car and cannot get out.

Furthermore, there are apps and new forms of carseat technology that have come out in recent years to help parents prevent this devastating event. Kars 4 Kids has a free app that uses the phone’s bluetooth to remind parents that a child is in the backseat. Drivers Little Helper is an app and monitor that will alert you, and if you don’t respond, will even start scrolling through your contacts to alert someone that there’s a child in the backseat. And carseat manufacturers are coming up with new technology too. Evenflo has as SensorSafe system in its carseats, which uses a transmitter connected to the chest clip of the carseat that will alert parents.

The bottom line is, there are options out there. Please, if you have babies and toddlers who cannot get out of their own seats and who could potentially get locked in your hot car, do something. Take at least one of these steps. Or, even better, “Mix it up,” Jenni Newman recommends, adding, “That’s the best way to arm yourself.”

Choosing a couple, or even a few, different methods is your safest bet. If you’re shopping for a new car or carseat, ask about what technology is available to keep your babies safe from a hot car death. But please, for the safety of your children, don’t think it can’t happen to you.

“We work so hard to protect our kids in so many ways,” Newman says. So why wouldn’t we do this too?

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