How technology could prevent deaths in hot cars

For many parents, it seems impossible to forget a child in the back seat of the car.

But this happens every year.

A 2019 study by the Hospital for Sick Children found that an average of one child dies each year in Canada because they were trapped in a hot vehicle. Usually, it’s because the driver forgot they were there.

Just last week, tragedy struck a suburb of Greater Montreal after a child was found dead in the backseat of a car on a hot day.

Such incidents can be avoided, experts say – especially with the use of technology.

CTV News spoke with Dennis Gingras, Director of Intelligent Vehicles (LIV) at Université de Sherbrooke’s lab, who shared the benefits of the life-saving technology.

Rear seat alert system

Although not yet standard for modern vehicles, integrated alert systems are an effective way to remind drivers to check the back seat before locking it, according to Gingras.

While the details vary, the basic idea is this: You open the back door to put the baby in the car seat. The alert system makes this note. You drive, you park. You get out of the car.

If the back door remains closed, the alarm goes off. You get the child out of the car.

But with the average lifespan of a car between 10 and 15 years, many families won’t have access to this built-in technology for some time.

“The technology is holistic. It’s just a question of implementing it and making it available to the masses,” Gingras said.

Meanwhile, he suggested establishing a professional system.

“Maybe, in the short term, we should consider the aftermarket, where independent companies and tier companies can sell equipment that can enhance a vehicle if it is not already equipped with this type of technology.”

A variety of these products have hit the market in recent years and can be found online.

Car seat sensors

Another potentially life-saving gadget is the car seat sensor.

This device works by detecting whether the child is buckled or not. If the car is locked but the presence of a child is detected, an alert is sent to the driver.

The sensor is either built into the car seat itself or can be purchased separately, like some rear seat alert systems.

Car seat sensors are relatively new, meaning they’re “more or less” reliable, Gingras said — but they’re certainly better than nothing.

“Even if we have some false alarms or we have a very small fraction of cases that go undetected, at least we can save more children.”

He believes that technology and availability will develop along with the demand

If even “one life” is saved, it is worth it.

It can happen to anyone

Research has found that so-called “forgotten baby syndrome” is especially common as parents get used to new routines.

The condition is only exacerbated by stress and lack of sleep—factors that most parents of young children are familiar with.

In 2021, a coroner’s report found that a Montreal father was overtired and overstressed when he left his six-month-old son in his car, resulting in his untimely death.

To make matters worse, the child had just started a new daycare routine that his father still wasn’t used to.

Although it is difficult to change the nature of stress and memory, it makes sense to push for the implementation of new technologies, Gingras said.

“Members of parliament, government agencies should put more pressure on auto manufacturers and child seat manufacturers,” he said.

“[We need to] Apply these technologies to vehicles as soon as possible.”

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