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Devices exist to help prevent kids from being left in hot cars

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Posted at 3:51 PM, Sep 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-11 13:20:21-04

Since 2000, a child has been left in an overheated vehicle more than 2,200 times.

In more than 380 of those cases, the child died, according to national safety organization KidsandCars.org.

Child safety advocates say these deaths are preventable, and new products are emerging with the promise to make the possibility of leaving a child in a hot car less likely.

But, one child safety advocate says parents are not buying into the products and there's not a standard product solution to tell someone a child’s been left in a hot car.

"They (parents) just need to get into the habit of looking in the backseat of their car before they lock the door and walk away," said Amber Rollins, a spokeswoman for KidsandCars.org.

The website tracks the incidents on its own by cataloging news reports in a database. It is the only database or tracking mechanism that exists, Rollins said.

Since 1990, it has tracked more than 4,500 instances where children have been left in vehicles. The organization knows its database is not complete because many incidents do not show up in media reports or get reported to authorities, which means they don’t get added to the database.

This map shows where and when a child was left in a hot vehicle in the United States from 1990 to 2014. Incidents where a child died are shown on the map in green. Incidents not resulting in a death are shown on the map in red. This data is compiled by KidsAndCars.org.

John Glass, an Ohio father, said he believes a new device he helped create can help.

“The product will remind the caregiver of the presence of a child buckled in the car seat,” Glass said. “Thus preventing tragic hyperthermia deaths to small children.”

Glass is the co-founder of the Small Ones Safety System.

According to the product website, the SOS System monitors a car seat equipped with an SOS chest clip (it replaces the chest clip that comes with the car seat.) The chest clip transmits to a receiver that is attached to the car.

At the end of a car trip, if a child is still buckled in the car seat, a series of gentle tones will remind the driver and passengers within a few seconds of turning the car off.

Rollins calls the SOS an “aftermarket product” -- a product that is added after a vehicle is purchased. And it’s not the only one around.

The Child Minder system is another product similar to the SOS. A "smart clip" replaces the harness clip and is synced to an alarm on a key ring. The system is activated when a child is buckled in the seat, the alarm will go off if the child is left in the car seat and the driver walks more than 10 feet from the vehicle.

Last year, TOMY introduced the First Years True Fit IAlert Convertible Car Seat. It notifies parents or caregivers with an alert through their smartphone if the child moves out of the car seat while the vehicle is in motion or if the child is left in the car seat when the vehicle is not in motion.

Experts estimate a child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster inside a vehicle than an adult’s. The temperature inside a car can quickly climb to 125 degrees on a warm day, putting a child at risk for heatstroke and death.

“In order for these products to be successful there needs to be a lot of education, massive marketing campaigns, Rollins said. “There have been several products that have launched, but have failed to take off.”

The SOS System hit online market shelves last month. According to Glass they are selling about one a day through Amazon.

Very few people think they will leave their child in a hot car, so they are reluctant to purchase items like this, Rollins said.

“No one wants to admit this could happen to them,” she said. “When you are in a checkout line paying for the item, you are admitting you could leave a child in the car, and that is looked down upon.”

In a July 2012 study, the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified and tested 18 different technologies available to prevent children from being left alone in hot cars. 

It found “that across different evaluations, the devices were inconsistent and unreliable in their performance. They often required adjusting of the position of the child within the child restraint,” according to the study.

Rollins said KidsandCars.org would like to see more studies like the one by NHTSA completed. So far, the organization has not put its stamp of approval on any of them, but, she says she likes to see options available for parents.

“When looking at products like this they have to be passive,” Rollins said. “No changing of batteries, no room for human error. There’s nothing on the market that feels like the perfect solution, but so many people are trying.”

Lynn Walsh is a data content producer and investigative reporter on the Scripps National Desk. She may be followed on Twitter through the handle @LWalsh.