Innovative car seat alerts parents to potential dangers
The challenges of traveling overseas with child car seats
An average of 38 children die each year from heat stroke after being left in a hot car. It is a tragic mistake that can happen to anyone, particularly when someone alters his normal schedule. Despite public awareness campaigns, it has been difficult to prevent these horrible accidents, but an innovative new child safety seat may help.
The First Years True Fit IAlert child seat is designed to warn parents of potential dangers, such as the child moving out of the car seat while the vehicle is in motion and if a child remains in the car seat when the vehicle is parked. By measuring ambient temperature, the seat knows if there is a true health threat due to a child being left in a hot car. The system also has a recline angle indicator to help parents achieve the correct angle when using a rear-facing installation.
The system works by synchronizing an IAlert smart phone application with a module in the car seat. Compatible with Android and Apple iOS, the seat can also set emails and text messages to be sent up to 12 emergency contacts in the event that a child is left unattended.
Life with a smart seat
We recently purchased the True Fit IAlert for our car seat test program. In addition to those extensive tests, I have been using the seat with my 18-month-old son to see how the special features worked during normal driving conditions.
Downloading the IAlert application to my Android smart phone was very straightforward. But after that simple step, the system proved to be quite finicky.
The app was not always able to detect that my son was in the seat. I often had to restart the application for it to work, and sometimes even restarting did not help. This was time consuming and frustrating. If he was detected, the application sounded an alert each time to ask if he was buckled.
One key safety feature is that the system will sound an alert after the vehicle stops moving, if the child is still in the car seat. The alert can be programmed to sound between one and five minutes after stopping. I originally had this option set to one minute, but quickly found that it could sound an alert when I was stopped at red lights. Five minutes proved a better choice.
As I didn’t want to leave my son unattended or in a hot vehicle to evaluate that feature, I used two different-sized test dummies: one newborn-sized dummy weighing 7.5 pounds and a larger dummy weighing 52 pounds. With the faux newborn, the system often didn’t detect that there was any weight in the seat, even though the dummy exceeds the minimum weight requirement of 5 pounds. And when the application did detect the newborn dummy, it would often lose the connection during the course of the car ride, or incorrectly alert me that the dummy was out of the car seat. (Now that would be scary!)
I found the false alarms while driving to be quite a distraction. I also entered an email address to receive emergency messages, which were not always received. A First Years Customer Service representative informed me that if the alert is dismissed on the phone within 20-30 seconds of appearing, the emergency email and text messages will not be sent, though this is not stated anywhere in the owner’s manual.
In terms of detecting the child, First Years clearly says that the alarm is intended to sound when a child moves out of the seat. But product testimonials on its website give the impression that it may also sound if a child unbuckles: “I know that my Olivia has a horrible habit of attempting to unbuckle her car seat and I can't count how many times I have had to pull over. With the IAlert I will be alerted immediately if she does this.”