Thursday, July 19th, 2007
A Look at Three Child Car Heat Death Safety Devices
When a baby is intentionally left in a car and dies from extreme heat or cold, we rightfully blame the parent. But when a baby is accidentally left in a vehicle and dies we still blame the parent. According to KidsInCars.org, 665 kids died left in vehicles between 2002 and 2006 in America, an average 133 kids every year.
We are outraged because we can’t imagine anyone forgetting a child in a car, but psychologists can. It is the worst case of "out of sight, out of mind" possible. One expert who studies how people interact with technology thinks these car deaths started to skyrocket when laws began requiring babies to be placed in the back seats of vehicles.
What if we approached this issue like we do our homes? We can buy outlet covers, hallway gates and hundreds of other devices to protect babies from our lapses, from our periods of absent-minded parenting.
What if we demanded the same safety measures for car seats? Your car beeps if the driver’s seat belt isn’t latched or if you forget to turn off your headlights. Our cars should alert us if we leave with a baby unattended. It is possible.
A thin sensor that detects weight changes as slight as 8 ounces is placed between a child safety seat cushion and the frame of the seat. Merely placing and removing a baby from the seat activates or turns off the sensor. A transmitter mounted on the seat activates an alarm on a special key chain the parent carries when the parent walks too far from the vehicle.
The bad news is that NASA was seeking commercial partners to license the technology in 2002, and apparently is still waiting. The estimated cost of the device is in the $20 to $30 range.
- News release: NASA develops child car-seat safety device
- The Youtube video above can be downloaded in other formats too.
The Halo Baby Seat Safety System by Sisters of Invention seems similar to the NASA prototype, with some extras.
A 3"x6" pad is placed under the child’s seat cushion, and putting a baby in the seat activates the pad. If a parent walks 20 feet from the vehicle with the baby still in his seat, an alarm on a special "key pod" sounds.
Better still, if the temperature inside the vehicle "becomes dangerous for the baby," an alarm also sounds on the key chain, even if the driver is inside the vehicle. If the parent does not respond within a "predetermined amount of time," a louder alarm in the seat pad sounds with a voice saying "Baby in danger!" to alert passersby.
The device isn’t sold commercially yet, but the expected cost is $150.
News article: Inventors venture out in search of funding
The Child ‘Minder by Baby Alert is actually on the market! It is a seat buckle with a wireless transmitter which fastens over your child’s existing seat strap. The transmitter activates when the buckle is engaged and turns off when the buckle is opened.
The parent carries a key chain receiver. If the parent walks more than 10 feet from the vehicle with the child’s buckle still engaged, the key ring sounds an alarm. Both units have audible low battery indicators.
I wonder whether replacing your childâ€™s shoulder harness chest clip with the Child ‘Minder might void your seat’s warranty. But hey, it appears to be the only safety device of its kind on the market and sells for $65.
Unfortunately, legislation cannot improve child-in-car abandonment in accidental situations. If you realize the danger and didn’t intend to do it, how is throwing you in jail going to fix things? If may make the general public feel good, but it won’t do anything to prevent future deaths.
The solution is for car seat manufacturers to include an alarm system in their child seats by default. As the NASA product indicates, the added cost could be as little as $20. That’s worth saving 133 kids every year.
CALL TO ACTION: If you are reading this because a child died in your community, please forward the URL to your local newspapers. Better yet, write a letter to your congressional representatives, to your local newspaper editor and let parents know these devices exist. Demand that car seat manufacturers integrate this technology into their child safety seats. Children will continue to die until parents expect safer seats and the news media get the word out that these deaths are easily preventable.