How to Solve the Problem of Kids Getting Left in Hot Cars
Infant, not left unattended, in a car. Photo by Getty Images
The tragic case of Cooper Harris— the 22-month-old Georgia boy left to die in a sweltering SUV in June — has its own unique plot twists. But it has still highlighted the massive problem of tots being forgotten in vehicles, where they are dying of heat stroke at alarming rates: At least 44 children died in 2013, according to data compiled by researchers at San Francisco State University. And so far this year that number is already up to 17. It seems like the kind of tragic situation that should be able to be prevented with a simple warning system — or at least a complex, technological one. Turns out such devices do exist — such as a smartphone-synched car seat, as well as wireless proximity sensors, both of which sound alarms when babies are left alone. It’s just they’ve been deemed to be not all that lifesaving.
“Across different evaluations, the devices were inconsistent and unreliable in their performance,” concluded Kristy Arbogast, director of engineering at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on such technologies. Still, while Arbogast has not re-evaluated the products since then, she says there’s a problem with the basic nature of these devices.
“The larger issue is that they are all child-restraint based technologies,” she told Yahoo Health, meaning that parents are alerted only if the kids are buckled into their seats. “And while kids in their restraints represent a meaningful number of these tragedies, they don’t represent all of them.” In many other past cases, for example, the children either entered an unlocked car to play and became trapped or were intentionally left in the car by caregivers running errands.