Can Technology Help Prevent Hot Car Deaths?

Hot Car

Hot car deaths are the most serious of the potential outcomes when a child is left in a car on their own in summer temperatures. This is because summer temperatures can cause the interior of a car to heat up with surprising speed, thus leading to heat stroke, permanent brain damage, and even death in the most serious of cases. Children are most susceptible to this problem for a couple of reasons.

First, children are less resilient than full-grown adults to a wide range of environmental conditions. Second, children have no means of correcting the problem, which is not something that can be said of full-grown adults since they can just open the door and exit the car on their own power.

What Causes Hot Car Deaths?

The rapid rise in temperatures inside the car can be attributed to the greenhouse effect. (1) For people who are unfamiliar with the concept, this is the same greenhouse effect that is causing an increase in the average temperature of the Earth because humans are putting enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into our shared atmosphere.

In short, the sun transmits energy to the Earth through sunlight. Whenever sunlight strikes a surface, the transmitted energy causes the material of that surface to start heating up. Although people cannot see this effect using their eyes without some outside assistance, they can feel it by touching something that has been left out in the sun, which is probably much warmer than normal to the touch because the material of the surface will be emitting part of that energy into their surroundings.

Unfortunately, the presence of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapor in the car will absorb this energy, thus keeping it trapped within the enclosed space.This happens because the energy that enters the car and the energy that emits from the materials of the car have different wave-lengths, which is why they have different properties as well as why they react differently to different substances. Planet-wise, the greenhouse effect causes a rise in the average temperature of the planet with unpredictable consequences for the future, while car-wise, the greenhouse effect causes a rise in the temperature of the car interior with potentially deadly consequences for its occupant without some sort of intervention.

Hot car deaths are all the more tragic because most of the parents who have run into the problem are not bad people so much as they have made a bad mistake. (2) For example, some of them meant to leave their children alone for a few minutes because they had something important that had to be done but did not want to go through the inconvenience of bringing their children with them, thus resulting in terrible consequences because they had no idea that the phenomenon could happen so fast.

In contrast, 54 percent of the parents in fatal cases have left their children in their cars because they had forgotten that they were there, which is apparently particularly common with sleep-deprived parents who forgot about their children in their cars because they were usually not responsible for them in the normal course of their morning routines. Finally, there are even 29 percent of fatal cases in which the children climbed into the cars on their own with horrible results when they failed to either climb back out or realize the source of the problem.

Of course, there are also people who have set out with the deliberate intention of causing hot car deaths, but the evidence suggests that said individuals make up no more than a small percentage of the total.

GMC Rear Seat Reminder system

Can Technology Help Prevent Hot Car Deaths?

Still, whether the parents had bad intentions or not, it is undeniable that hot car deaths are a serious problem that have resulted in numerous deaths throughout the years. In fact, there have been more than 600 such deaths since 1998, with the number of deaths happening in a single year going up as high as 49. This is unsurprising considering that, one, children can start experiencing problems within a matter of minutes, and that, two, children have been known to die from temperatures as low as 52 degrees, which is not helped by the fact that many cars come in dark colors, thus making them that much more dangerous because of how materials in darker colors absorb more energy as opposed to how materials in lighter colors reflect more energy.

As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there have been many promises made about the introduction of technology that can prevent hot car deaths by either keeping parents from making such horrible mistakes or some other solution. One simple but nonetheless important example is the GMC Rear Seat Reminder system, which serves to remind parents that they have other passengers in their cars.

Unfortunately, in spite of the repeated promises, more sophisticated technologies have not yet managed to make it onto the open market, even though concepts such as a horn that would sound when there is a child in the car based on their heartbeat as well as when temperatures in the car exceeded safe levels, which would cause either the parents or bystanders to come running to the rescue. There have been some other aftermarket products introduced as well, but so far, they have been flawed because of critical factors such as insufficient reliability.

Further Considerations

Given the seriousness of the issue, it seems probable that more and more technology will be used to prevent hot car deaths in the future. Unfortunately, it seems that consumers will have to wait for a few more years before either car manufacturers or aftermarket manufacturers step up to provide a better solution to the problem. Until then, parents will have to make do with either what is already available to them or some innovative solutions of their own. For example, some parents have been known to put either their briefcases or their lunch boxes or even their cellphones besides their children in their cars, thus reducing the chances of them being accidentally left behind.

References:

  1. http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1606
  2. http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/innovation/could-new-technology-help-prevent-hot-car-deaths-n597191


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