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Hot cars kill; technology exists to prevent this

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Hyundai Rear Occupant Alert (Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor America)

This year, 29 children have died of heatstroke after being left in a hot car.

Five of those children have died in August alone.

Statistics show that 56% of the time, a caregiver unknowingly left that child in the vehicle.

A lot of parents think this could never happen to them, but KidAandCars.org, citing research from neuroscientist David Diamond, says this is the most dangerous mistake a parent or caregiver can make.

Specifically, “habit memories” can kick in when there is fatigue or a change in routine, and rather than accounting for a specific day, the brain subconsciously repeats what it does every other day.

Diamond, who has done extensive research on why parents leave children in hot cars, writes:

“In all of the cases I’ve studied, the parent begins the drive with the plan to bring the child to a destination, but at some point during the drive the parent reports having lost awareness of the child in the car. In these cases, the parent travels directly to the final destination (typically home or work), and in the process, exits the car without awareness that the child is still in the car.”

While automakers like General Motors and Nissan have employed rear-seat reminders that put messages on behind-the-wheel gauges, these messages can be tuned out.

A simple beep or in-car text message may not be enough to save a life. And this won’t protect a child who might climb into a car without your knowledge.

Thus, Hyundai has upped the ante, and with the introduction of the all-new 2019 Santa Fe, the automaker also introduced the Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert (ROA).

This system adds motion sensors to the interior of the vehicle, and if it detects movement in the back seat, the horn will start honking. If this is ignored, the vehicle will proceed to send a text message and email to the owner.

While this feature isn’t standard on the Santa Fe, it’s included on the SEL Plus trim ($29,800). And when Hyundai rolled out its family-oriented three-row Palisade ($31,550) this year, the Ultrasonic ROA is available on every trim with it being standard on the top-tier Limited model ($44,700).

Kia, Hyundai’s sister company, also offers the Ultrasonic ROA system on its new Telluride.

What’s more, Hyundai has pledged to make this motion-sensing technology more widely available on its vehicles, with the basic rear-seat reminder standard on all models by 2022 model year.

Thankfully, this likely means other automakers will be forced to follow suit.



But how can you ensure your child stays safely out of hot cars without this technology? KidsandCars.org offers the following tips:

  • Make it a habit of opening the back door every time you park the car – even when you aren’t transporting children.
  • To enforce this habit, place an item you can’t start your day without in the back seat – like you’re employee badge or briefcase.
  • Ask your child care provider to call you immediately if your child doesn’t arrive on time.
  • Keep vehicles in garages and driveways locked at all times – and ask neighbors and visitors to do the same.
  • Teach children to honk the horn if they become stuck inside a car.
  • Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays – this is when many tragedies occur.

The Bottom Line:

No one is perfect, and even the most loving parent could wind up on autopilot and forget a child in the back seat.

Last year there were 53 child deaths – and 62 pet deaths – in hot cars. We’d like to see those numbers be zero. Technology, along with the habit-forming tips offered by KidsAndCars.org can make that happen.

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