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Children Left in Cars Warning System
Detail: Forgetting an infant or a young child in the back seat of a vehicle can cause death by hyperthermia in a few hours. It is a tragedy that kills about 30 children a year, according to the National Safety Council. Many such deaths result from forgetfulness rather than neglect, occurring when distracted but otherwise responsible parents or caretakers inadvertently leave a child in the car.

Is leaving a child in the back seat of a car a crime? Could technical solutions from automakers save young lives? These questions have both policy and design impacts. KidsAndCars.org, a safety advocacy group believes that carmakers must develop reminder devices to warn drivers if a child is left behind. This group campaigned for such a requirement to be written into the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2008. But it was not among the important safety measures mandated by the legislation.

KidsandCars.org is now proposing that a requirement for safety belt latching reminders for all seating positions be attached to the next Transportation Department reauthorization bill. The proposed regulation would also mandate a child-left-behind warning, which could share electronics with the belt reminder.

For the auto industry the concept is on the table with a range of other occupant-detection systems, but no firm timetable is available on when it will move closer to market. A rocket scientist, William Edwards, a senior engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., led an effort to develop a child-left-behind warning device after a child died of hyperthermia in the center’s parking lot. The NASA device is simple. When a child is placed in the car seat, a sensor under the cushion, working through a module mounted on the side of the seat, establishes communication with an alarm on the driver’s key ring. If the driver walks away from the car while the child is still in the seat, the alarm sounds — and can be turned off only by removing the child. The NASA device was designed to be added to existing cars, and the research center is looking for a commercial partner to further develop and market a product based on the technology.

Safe Kids USA that works to increase awareness and urge parents and caregivers to never leave a child alone in a vehicle has suggestions for solving this problem: drivers should leave something they need next to the child — a purse or cellphone. The assumption is that if the item is remembered, the child will be as well.

Many believe that a child-left-behind warning system is critically needed. As Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org said, “If we leave the headlights on or keys in the ignition, we get a buzz….Somehow we have decided that it’s more important not to have a dead car battery than a dead baby.”
Source: Based on a story by Paul Stenquist, “How to Remind a Parent of the Baby in the Car?”, The New York Times, May 27, 2010
Date: May 30 2010