Do Cars Need Forgotten Kid Alarms?


USA Today reports that at least 41 children have died so far this year in hot cars.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering petitioning automakers to include safety belt reminder chimes for all seating positions.  Kids and Cars President Janette Fennell thinks that “these same chimes that sense if people aren’t buckled in should also warn if children are still buckled in cars after they’re locked.”  The Consumer Federation of America and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety agree.

While a chime might help in the case of distracted parents accidentally forgetting their child is in the back seat, what about parents who innocently leave their children in the car on purpose while they run into a store?  It turns out, only 18% of hot car deaths from 1998-2009 were caused by parents who intentionally left their children in the car.  30% were the result of children playing in unattended vehicles (in which case the chime would be ineffective in preventing death) and 51% of the deaths involved children forgotten in cars.

Several of my fellow Strollerderby bloggers made it a point to tell me that even loving parents can feel stressed while running errands, get distracted and leave a child in the car that they aren’t used to having with them if their daily routine has suddenly been changed.  CNN reported back in June about a car death that happened for similar reasons, and in the piece, Fennell says, “People assume this is happening to bad parents, people who take drugs or use alcohol, maybe abusive parents.  But the exact opposite is true. It’s like 95 percent of the people this happens to are wonderful — let me go so far as to say doting parents.”  It’s not that I doubt that, it’s that it makes me sad any of our lives should be so hectic when there are children involved.

The Stir covered a story this summer about a Canadian mom who accidentally locked her keys – and her small child – in the car, and I’ve witnessed the same thing happen in New York.  I can see myself doing that; closing the car door too early with the keys and my kid inside.  I understand the reality is that sometimes you have to take your children with you when you have lots of things to do, but am I the only person who gets worried about the future of America when I read safety tips telling young mothers to hand their baby their cell phone in the back seat, because they are less likely to forget a phone than an infant?  If sleep deprivation is the culprit here, why would a tired mind be more able to remember a phone or a purse than a child?

Consumer groups are frustrated that “once-promising technology to prevent deaths to children locked in hot cars isn’t available,” such as “sensors to detect heat, heartbeats and/or the weight of children.”  Hmmm…. sound familiar?  Maybe kids should be forced to wear Exmobaby biosensor onesies every time they get in the car?  That way, if you forget them in the back seat, you’ll know where they are and how their vital signs are doing.  That is, unless you left them with your cell phone…

Photo: Cafe Mom