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A U.S. automaker has come out with a new feature aimed at preventing children from dying in hot cars.
GMC is adding a “Rear Seat Reminder” as a standard feature to its 2017 Acadia SUV, the company announced on Monday. The system appears to be an industry first, said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and Janette Fennell, founder of KidsAndCars.org.
"It was designed in response to the tremendous amount of heatstroke deaths that we see every year," Tricia Morrow, a GM global safety strategy engineer who worked on the feature, told TODAY Parents. "We saw this as a problem for the industry."
The announcement comes a day after a 6-month-old baby in Des Moines, Iowa, became the 12th child to die in a hot car in 2016. On average, 37 children die this way every year, Fennell said.
The GMC feature monitors the car’s rear doors and activates when it senses they are opened and closed within 10 minutes of the car starting, or while it’s running. The next time the engine is turned off, the system chimes and displays a message for the driver that reads, “Rear Seat Reminder, Look in Rear Seat.”
The feature doesn’t actually detect people or items in the backseat. Such technology is difficult and complex to add, Morrow noted. The Acadia was chosen to debut the system because it's a family-friendly car that tends to carry a lot of people, she added. GM is planning to add it to many more models.
As a working mom of two young daughters, Morrow said the issue of children accidentally left behind in cars really hit home.
"Life is so increasingly busy that even though it seems impossible that I could leave my girls — the most important things in my life — statistics say it can happen," she said.
“It happens to the best of parents,” Fennell noted. “The worst mistake one can ever make is to think that it can’t happen to them. No one is immune.”
Most cases involve sleep-deprived, stressed-out, exhausted parents driving around with a small baby that may be in a rear-facing car seat — with all of that adding up to a dangerous memory fail, Fennell noted.
“If it’s just one little beep or something that can bring them out of their fog to remind them, that’s a good thing,” she said.
Calling GMC’s technology a big step in the right direction, Fennell said all cars should have a feature that detects the presence of a child. She wondered why that’s not already in place, given that car sensors remind drivers about everything from putting on their seat belts to checking the engine.
“What that says is the auto industry knows that we’re human and sometimes we need some reminders,” Fennell said. “Who decided it’s more important not to have a dead car battery than a dead baby?”
KidsAndCars.org has these tips to make sure you don't accidentally leave a child in a hot car:
- When you get into your car, put your handbag, employee ID badge or cell phone on the floor board in front of the child. That will make you open the back door when you arrive at your destination.
- Keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat and place it in the passenger seat whenever you’re driving around. It’s a cue your child is in the back.
- Ask your babysitter or child care provider to call you if your child hasn’t arrived on time.