Every summer heartbreaking headlines about children dying from car-related heatstroke cycle through the news. In fact, 29 deaths so far have been reported by KidsAndCars.org, a child safety advocacy group, and there are seven more weeks of summer left.
Even with increased efforts to bring awareness to this issue, the number of heatstroke-related car deaths among children has remained steady year over year. Taking a different approach is car manufacturer Nissan. The Japanese carmaker recently announced it has re-engineered their four-door vehicles with a built-in safety feature for the backseat, which they hope will help make the difference.
How a pan of lasagna sparked car innovation
In 2019 models, Nissan will start rolling out a feature called Rear Door Alert. When enabled, Rear Door Alert detects that you'e opened a rear door and alerts you via a dashboard message and car horn if you don't reopen that door upon arriving at your destination.
"The idea was inspired when I accidentally left a pan of lasagna in the back seat of my car overnight," said Marlene Mendoza, a Nissan engineer and a mother of three. "The worst thing was the car smelled for days, but it made me ask myself, 'What if I left something far more important back there?'"
In a majority of hot car death cases, the child is inadvertently left in the vehicle. Sleep deprivation or a change in routine can result in a parent or caregiver forgetting there's a sleeping infant in a rear-facing car seat. Regardless of the cause, the result is almost always tragic.
That's because the temperature inside a car can increase quickly and reach temperatures in excess of 120 degrees. And since a child's body overheats more quickly than an adult's, it can take just 15 minutes to put their lives in danger.
Your alternative if you don't want to buy a new car
Nissan plans to make Rear Door Alert standard in all of its vehicles by 2022. But for parents who aren't in the market for a new car, other options do exist. Both Evenflow and Cybex (owned by the same parent company, GB), offer car seats equipped with SensorSafe chest clips. The clips, which attach to the car seat's 5-point safety harness, alert parents if they forget to unbuckle their child after turning off the engine. It also alerts you if the backseat becomes too hot, too cold or if your child unbuckles their safety clip while the car is in motion.
The clip pairs both with a free smartphone app (iOS or Android) and a sensor plugged into the car's dashboard, so parents can be alerted inside and outside of the vehicle. As a final resort, if you somehow miss both alerts, an emergency contact will be notified and provided with the GPS coordinates of your vehicle.