How Automakers Are Trying to Prevent Hot Car Fatalities – WHIO TV 7 and WHIO Radio

NEW YORK — (NEW YORK) — On average, 38 children die every year in hot cars.

Tuesday marked the 14th hot car death in the United States this year, a number that is expected to rise as heat waves continue across the country.

These tragic deaths are 100% preventable “if we can use a little technology to help,” said Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Car Safety, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing injuries and fatalities. of children as a result of vehicle-related incidents. Fennell has been sounding the alarm on hot car deaths for over 15 years.

“We begged the auto industry to do something,” she continued. “It’s an uphill battle. But we’re on the cusp of things that have to happen.”

For Fennell, that means honking vehicles that flash and send text alerts to drivers — even nearby strangers — that a child has been accidentally left behind in the back seat or has surreptitiously climbed inside a vehicle.

“Cars remind you to check your tire pressure, turn off your lights, take your key,” she explained. “To truly end these terrible deaths, we must be able to detect the presence of a living being trapped in a vehicle and alert anyone who can come to their aid.”

Automakers have been researching various technologies for decades. Ed Kim, president and chief analyst of automotive consulting firm AutoPacific, said General Motors deserves credit for being the first automaker to tackle the problem of rear seat warnings in 2001. The industry s is committed in 2019 to placing a rear seat reminder in every new vehicle in 2025.

“Market research shows that safety and security are among the most important things to consumers when buying a vehicle,” Kim told ABC News.

Many vehicles now display safety alerts in the gauge cluster. Some technologies can be manually disabled, raising fears that drivers may become indifferent to them.

Simon Roberts, a father of two young children and an engineer with Toyota Connected North America, said Toyota is actively working to find a solution to this problem, which is becoming more perilous each year as temperatures rise. In May, the Japanese automaker showed off its “Cabin Awareness” concept, which is currently undergoing real-world testing with May Mobility, an autonomous vehicle company.

“We want to be an extra set of virtual eyes if you will,” Roberts told ABC News. “We don’t like the status quo and won’t accept it.”

The Cabin Awareness concept deploys high-resolution, millimeter-wave 4D imaging radar to determine if a person or pet has been left behind in a locked vehicle. The imaging radar sensor, located above the headliner, can detect a life form even after a driver exits, according to Toyota. If a child or pet is locked inside, warning signals illuminate on the instrument cluster. The vehicle will make noise and the driver will be able to receive notifications through the Toyota app as well as text messages, the company said. Additionally, the technology can send alerts through smart home devices or send text messages to designated emergency contacts.

Roberts said the team is also currently exploring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications to grab the attention of passers-by. The engineering team was inspired by microwave radar technology created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that can detect human breathing and heartbeats under more than 30 feet of rubble after he magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal in 2015.

“Good people make mistakes and it can happen to any of us,” Roberts said. “It’s a big problem that we have to solve.”

Roberts pointed out that opening windows in a locked car can still cause heatstroke and death to occupants inside. More than 900 children have died of heatstroke since 1998, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A child can die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees, and a child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s, the NHTSA states on its website.

Korean automaker Hyundai has first deployed its ultrasonic rear occupant alert sensor in the Palisade SUV for the 2020 model year. The sophisticated sensing-based alert triggers flashing lights, honks, and sends a text message via Hyundai’s Bluelink connected car system, directing the driver to immediately check the back seat. Although Ultrasonic technology is only available on select models at the moment, a Hyundai spokesperson said a Rear Occupant Alert (ROA) system is standard in 99 percent of the company’s vehicles. When the driver turns off the vehicle, a reminder appears on the dashboard to check the back seat.

“We are trying to be pioneers in this area,” Brian Latouf, director of safety for Hyundai Motor North America, told ABC News. “We are paying close attention to this issue and messaging and communication is important.”

Currently, the ultrasonic sensor has limitations, Latouf noted. The vehicle must be locked for an alert to be sent via the Bluelink system and not all Hyundai drivers are connected to the Bluelink app. The ultrasonic sensor looks for movement so a sleeping child won’t trigger the system, he added. The vehicle, however, will still honk and display the message “check rear seat” on the instrument panel display.

“We’re learning from Ultrasonic to make it more accurate and we’re looking at more accurate systems like infrared technology,” Latouf said.

Electric car maker Tesla launched its “dog mode” in 2019 so owners could keep their pets in an air-conditioned cabin while the vehicle was unattended. A message on the large screen reads “My owner will be back soon” and displays the temperature inside.

Kim, like Fennell, said these alerts — while largely helpful — can make drivers get used to the constant warnings. Current technology can also desensitize motorists to real emergencies and create liabilities for businesses.

“There’s definitely a risk if a warning becomes so routine that you just start ignoring it. That’s definitely a concern,” Kim said. “There are people who will get so used to the warning that it will become meaningless and they won’t pay any attention to it.”

He added, “Having the alert is better than not having it and this feature is cheap for a car manufacturer to implement.”

Brian Moody, editor of Kelley Blue Book, said these warning systems add an “extra level of sophistication” to the vehicle and are a big selling point. The wider debate could be whether automakers are responsible if warning technology fails in a car with children and pets inside, he said.

“At some level there has to be personal accountability,” Moody told ABC News.

There are ways to prevent hot car fatalities without technology: teaching kids to honk their horns if they’re stuck inside or placing an important object in the back as a reminder. Fennell said she will continue to push for more progress until no child dies in a hot car. If Toyota’s Concept Cabin system becomes a reality, Roberts said the company would be willing to share its technology with industry competitors.

“This is a good social initiative,” he said. “If we can help the industry move forward, why not? »

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