July 24, 2014 at 5:05 pm

NHTSA: In-vehicle technology to prevent child heatstroke deaths not ready

Washington — The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that in-vehicle technology to prevent parents from leaving kids behind isn’t ready.

Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx held a press conference at a Washington, DC school urged parents not to leave young children behind in cars. Since 1998, at least 628 children have died every year in hot cars — about 38 a year on average. This year, at least 17 children have died.

“The technology that’s out there just isn’t reliable enough to put your child’s life in the hands of. That’s why the message today is really one about making sure that we get into the habit of looking before we lock. Never leave a child alone in a car,” Friedman said. “The technology isn’t there yet. We’re continuing to look at any new product that’s available in the marketplace but it’s just not there right now.”

Foxx said the message must be clear to parents. “Never leave your child alone in a car period. Never. It doesn’t take much,” Foxx said, noting that cars can heat up to potentially fatally temperatures in under 10 minutes and the first child death of 2014 occurred when outdoor temperatures were in the 70s

In 2012, NHTSA studied 18 different systems, including 11 that were for sale at the time.

“The devices were inconsistent and unreliable in their performance. They often required adjusting of the position of the child within the child restraint, the distance to activation varied across trials and scenarios, and they experienced continual synching/unsynching during use. For some of the devices evaluated, issues such as interference with other devices, inability to function in the presence of liquids, and variability in performance in the presence of a cellphone were common. In sum, the devices require considerable effort from the parent/caregiver to ensure smooth operation, and often that operation is not consistent,” NHTSA’s research found.

NHTSA says parents should never leave children unattended in a vehicle — even if the engine and air conditioning are running. They suggest leaving an item in the back seat — like a briefcase or cellphone — to remind parents to get a child out of the back seat. Another suggestion is to leave a teddy bear in the driver’s view to remind them to take the child out of the seat. Many children have died when a parent who rarely takes a child to day care takes a turn — and forgets about the child in the back seat. NHTSA urges parents to ask childcare providers to call if the child does not show up for day care as expected.

Of the deaths, 30 percent are linked to children getting into unlocked, unattended vehicles while another 17 percent are linked to parents intentionally leaving their children in vehicles. About 51 percent are because parents forget the child was left behind.

In 2012, Strickland said the aftermarket devices may give parents a false sense of security and would not address the up to 40 percent of children killed when they gain access to a vehicle without an adult present or are not in child restraints, since the systems are child-restraint based.