In 2010 about 50 children, along with an untold number of pets, died from being accidentally left in cars. Last year that number dropped to 33 thanks to more public awareness of the issue.
NPR reported last July that this situation often develops when our daily driving routine is disrupted: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/12/137790387/leaving-kids-in-hot-cars-foul-or-forgivable . To me, that was a surprise. In some cases, drivers switched cars, were late for a meeting, picked up stuff on the way to work and were thinking about something else besides driving (I’m guilty of that quite often). For me driving is something I consider routine, so my mind wonders to what meetings I have, what needs to be done, basically everything other than driving. Then its like, ‘snap out of it’ and I’m back to driving.
At a recent press conference in Washington DC, David Strickland, the Director of National Highway and Safety Administration, commented about aftermarket devices to detect children left in cars when he said, “While we feel these devices are very well-intended, we don’t think they can be used as the only countermeasure to make sure that you don’t forget your child left behind in a car.”
The purpose of the Safety Concept Car that we launched in 2000 (which later became C30 but that’s a story we’ve covered here before), was to test possible future safety systems, ideas and technologies. With the SCC, we showed a heart beat sensor, like version 0.0001a.
In launching the SCC, Volvo had the idea of using a heart beat sensor to detect a child left in the car. Within weeks it changed to a personal security system. Some years later we offered a heart beat sensor to detect and a key fob to alert if the key fob holder pushed a query button with our Personal Security system. That option worked once a car was locked, and if a window was bashed, or if someone, i.e. a bad person with ill intent, was hiding inside the car. It was not for detecting children left accidentally.
What happened was an inability of that system to effectively continue to alert a person holding the key fob. An active system is what we and others were working towards but it still has limits. For example: a child is left in a car, while the parent runs into the house to answer the phone and the system alerts of a child left in the car, and the parent thinks “okay be right back,” answers the phone to discuss last month’s expensive bill with the power company, slams the phone down and then being distracted from the call, goes on to do other things besides bringing in their child because the system doesn’t continuously go off.
You know how your cell phone dies in some buildings? It’s exactly the same problem with a low power RF key fob device. It works fine when it’s within a few feet of your car but the FCC limits transmission range which further restricts long-range alert systems. At this point in time, there are no easy solutions to leaving children in cars, not even according to Strickland, with aftermarket products. The best solution is that drivers must shift gears and somehow remind themselves of their baby-on-board.
The way we look at future safety systems is to decide what gives us the best return towards saving lives. When our first Blind Spot Identification System launched in 2004, we followed with City Safety (low speed accident avoidance in XC60), then added Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, Distance Alert and Lane Departure Warning. This year, we have added Active High Beam and Road Sign Identification systems. All combined in a way to help Volvo reach our goal of no deaths or serious injuries in a Volvo by the year 2020.
On average about 15,000 people are killed in pedestrian accidents each year, with about 4,000 being children. So with Pedestrian Detection and Full Auto Brake, we have a system that aims to significantly reduce pedestrian deaths. As other manufactures tackle this issue as well, there will be significantly less deaths. Maybe there will come a day when all cars help protect occupants and those around them in a way that there are no deaths or serious injuries.