NHTSA Finds Some Child Car Seat Alarm Devices Unreliable

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 38 infants and children die from heatstroke in the U.S. as the result of being left unattended in sweltering automobiles. As we become increasingly dependent on technology to make us smarter and safer in our vehicles, a number of new devices have arrived on the market, designed to alert parents when they have inadvertently left their children in their car seats. A new study, however, found that relying on technology alone may not be enough to prevent a tragedy from occurring.

In 2011 the NHTSA commissioned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to evaluate a number of aftermarket devices that are designed to alert parents if their children have been left in a car seat. At the time, there were 11 such products on available to consumers, and of those three were studied by researchers from the hospital.

Researchers concluded that the products were “inconsistent and unreliable” as a standalone means of preventing heatstroke deaths among children.  According to the researchers, the product’s manufacturers were aware of their results and some were working to improve their devices.

The three products tested included the ChildMinder Smart Pad and the Suddenly Safe Pressure Pad, both of which rely on sensors placed under the padding of the child seat. Researchers also evaluated the ChildMinder Smart Clip System, which attaches to the chest harness of the child safety seat. Each of the products promised to automatically send an alert to the caregiver’s cellphone if their child had been left in their vehicle, once they had walked a certain distance from the vehicle.

All three products were tested in a variety of real world situations which included improper positioning of the sensor pads, liquid spills and cellphone interference.

“The results showed that none of these three devices we tested were completely reliable and consistent in their function and ability to detect children. The devices required considerable effort from the parents to ensure smooth operation and often that operation was not consistent,” said researcher Kristy Arbogast.

Of additional concern was the fact that the devices often sent false alarms or beeps when the caregivers had not left their vehicles, causing undue concern and distracting the parents while they were driving.

NHTSA administrator David Strickland urges parents and caregivers not to rely on any one device to prevent them from accidentally leaving their children unattended in a vehicle.  Instead, the agency recommends that parents place other valuables such as a briefcase, purse or cellphone, in the back seat to help remind them not to leave their children strapped in when they leave their vehicles for extended periods of time.

For additional information, visit www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke.

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