GM Takes Lead In Addressing Hot Car Deaths

Forgetting your lunch or groceries in the back seat is an inconvenience. But imagine if, instead, it was your child.

It boggles my mind that people do this, maybe because I’ve never been a parent who is living in a state of near exhaustion for years on end. But it happens more frequently than you might think. I will never forget the story of the Georgia man who forgot to stop at daycare, left the 2-year-old in the car seat in the back seat of his vehicle, and then went to work. He remembered after his eight-hour shift at Home Depot when he was driving home and glanced in the back seat and saw her there, unresponsive. He was charged with murder. 

If you google “hot car deaths,” you will get more stories about similar episodes than you care to read. It’s actually very upsetting, I don’t recommend you do it. 

For more than a decade, consumer safety advocates have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require rear seat reminders to help curtail hot car deaths. 

At 70 degrees on a sunny day, after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 104 degrees. After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees.” When temperatures outside range from 80 to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172 degrees.

General Motors became the first U.S. car manufacturer to include backseat reminder technology in one of its vehicles — the 2017 Acadia sports utility vehicle, reports Beth Dalbey in Patch.

“Our customers live busy lives with demanding schedules, and the rear seat reminder helps protect the things we care about most,” Tricia Morrow, GM global safety strategy engineer, said in a statement. “Whether it’s your lunch, laptop, pet or most importantly, your child, it’s easier than it seems to forget what’s in the back seat when moving between life’s events. With this new feature, we are leading the charge to address this ongoing problem.”

Each year in the U.S., about half of the children under age 14 who die of in-vehicle heatstroke do so as a result of being forgotten. 

Additionally, items left in the back seat are a target for theft. Nearly 23% of larceny in 2014 was from a motor vehicle, according to the FBI. I live in Detroit so I know better than to leave anything visible in my vehicle no matter where I’m parking. I have had several friends who have left tote bags and backpacks in their backseats, get their cars broken into and the items stolen. In one case, it was a bag of library books, which is kind of funny since it’s questionable whether the thief could read. However, even if you don’t get anything of value stolen, having to get your glass fixed is a pain. 

Back to the more pressing subject: kids in hot cars. According to NHTSA and data collected by San Jose State University, the number of children dying of heat stroke in automobiles began to rise following the widespread introduction of passenger-side air bags in the 1990s, reports The Associated Press. An increase in air-bag related fatalities of children in front seats prompted parents to buckle their children in rear seats, but while air bag-related fatalities began to decrease by 2000, the number of children dying of heat stroke rose due to children in back seats being less noticeable to parents and caregivers, according to university researchers.

But as airbag-related fatalities decreased, hot car deaths increased. At least 775 have died of vehicular heat stroke since 1990, according to Advocacy group has lobbied NHTSA to pressure the automobile industry to install sensors and other technology, but “they are not working toward a solution,” said Janette Fennell, president of the advocacy group.

The Rear Seat Reminder will debut first as a standard feature in GM’s 2017 GMC Acadia SUV in the U.S. It works by monitoring the vehicle’s rear doors. The feature is intended to activate when either of the rear doors is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or if they are opened and closed while the vehicle is running. Under these circumstances, the next time the vehicle is turned off after a door activation, the Acadia is designed to sound five audible chimes and display a message in the driver information center that reads, “Rear Seat Reminder / Look in Rear Seat.”

Technology alone cannot solve the issue of heatstroke when it comes to young children, but this new Acadia reminder can help,” said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, in a release. “We must always remember that the safest way to protect a child from heatstroke is to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.”

The feature itself cannot detect items in the back seat, so it is always important to check the rear seat prior to exiting the vehicle.

Now if we can only do something (other than break windows) to stop drivers from leaving pets trapped in hot cars. Thankfully, law enforcement is usually pretty responsive in cases like this. Yes, I’m that lady who calls the police if you leave your dog in the hot car for more than five minutes. You’ve been warned.

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