The attention generated this summer by child hot car deaths has also sparked discussion about what measures can be taken to prevent future tragedies.
Alissa Chavez, a 17-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M., made news recently with The Hot Seat, her invention that aims to alert parents and caregivers that a child has been left in a car.
Chavez' device is one in a long line of of inventions designed with the goal of reducing the likelihood that a child will be left in a vehicle. Some are currently on the market.
However, despite years of efforts, no single device has emerged as a widely accepted solution to this issue. And at this time, none of the products available for purchase are recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and no cars available on the market today come equipped with heatstroke prevention technology.
Prevention products on the market
On average, 38 children die each year from heatstroke in vehicles, according to KidsAndCars.org, an organization that tracks heatstroke deaths and advocates for child vehicular safety. More than 50% of those deaths occur because a parent or caregiver forgot the child was in the backseat.
In 2012, NHTSA partnered with The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to review 18 prevention products that could be used with any vehicle. Eleven of them were commercially available at the time and seven of them were not yet on the market. They concluded that the devices were "not reliable." Some of them had inconsistent results and others required "extensive efforts" by caregivers to set up and monitor, according to NHTSA's press release and report.
Research is ongoing and NHTSA plans to release additional product reviews in the coming months, according to a statement it released to USA TODAY Network.
"While technology-based reminders may prevent some instances, concerns about reliability and establishing a false sense of security lead us to believe eliminating these deaths requires education, vigilance, and personal responsibility," NHTSA said in a statement when asked about current technology available.
"We think anything that can help to prevent these deaths should be used," Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org, told USA TODAY Network when asked about products like Chavez' invention and other items on the market.
But "don't rely 100% on that," she said. "There should always be layers of protection."
The group offers a number of tips to remind drivers that a child is in the backseat, such as putting something in the back next to the child — like a cell phone or handbag — that the driver will need when they leave the car.
Built-in auto technology
Automakers are also concerned about the reliability of built-in technology, according to Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an association of 12 vehicle manufacturers including Ford Motor Company and General Motors.
"The stakes here are so high because we're talking about saving a life. We're talking about it being a fail-safe security net," Newton told USA TODAY Network, adding that no device has proven to be dependable enough to be widely adopted.
Newton declined to talk about any specific heatstroke prevention technology that may be in the works, but said that safety features in general are a priority for manufacturers because they are important to consumers.
"Every automaker is trying to outdo the other guy," he said.
But even if there were to be new technology installed in cars, it takes years before advances in car safety and manufacturing become prevalent on the road, Newton said.
Newton emphasized the importance of education, noting that the alliance has a section on heatstroke dangers on its website.
The NHTSA emphasizes a safety campaign called Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock, which is aimed at educating the public about the dangers of hot vehicles.
Meanwhile, KidsAndCars.org is organizing a White House petition in an effort to make the Department of Transportation develop and test more heatstroke-prevention technology and install that technology in cars.
"I empathize with automakers for all the things they have to do and the liability that they have to deal with," Fennell said, but added that she doesn't think creating a rear seat sensor seems that much more challenging than all the other reminders available in cars , such as warnings to put on your seat belt.
"In the cases where someone unknowingly leaves a baby alone in a vehicle, what's needed is just a little technology to remind them that the baby's in the back seat," she said.
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