Federal traffic safety officials warn that devices like the ChildMinder and Suddenly Safe Pressure Pads, which are promoted for prevention of potentially life-threatening heat strokes if a child is accidentally locked in a hot car, are inconsistent and unreliable.
According to a report (PDF) released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on July 30, parents have been urged to take pro-active safety measures, such as looking through the car before they lock it and never leaving a child in a car unattended, even for a short time. The agency indicated that electronic devices currently being promoted to parents by a number of companies do not apear to work well and may create a false sense of security.
The study was conducted by NHTSA and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), looking at three devices, known as child safety seat monitoring systems: the Suddenly Safe Pressure Pad, the ChildMinder Smart Clip System and the ChildMinder Smart Pad. There are about 18 similar products in total currently on the market.
Researchers found a host of problems with the devices, including inconsistency of the arming sensitivity, varations in the warning signal distance and a potential for interference by other electronic devices, such as cell phones. The devices also could fail if the child was out of position or if a beverage had been spilled on them.
Additionally, many of the devices were confounding to parents and caregivers, leading to devices that were set up improperly without the operator knowing it.
According to the report, 494 children have died from heatstroke after being locked in a vehicle between 1998 and 2009; an average of 37 children per year. More than half of those deaths were children under the age of two.
In 2010, there were 49 such deaths, with the number dropping to 33 in 2011. The report points out that a significant percentage of those deaths occurred when the child got into the car on his or her own, without the parent being aware, and when children were intentionally left in a vehicle. The ChildMinder, Suddenly Safe and similar devices do not address these problem.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Instead of using the unreliable devices, the NHTSA has provided several recommendations in a press release, as part of its “Where’s baby? Look before you lock” campaign:
- Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended, even if the windows are down, the air conditioning is on or the engine is running.
- Habitually look in the front and back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away.
- Make sure childcare providers call if a child does not show up for care on schedule.
- Use reminders, such as placing your cellphone or a stuffed animal in the backseat to remind you that a child is there. Make sure the reminder is in the driver’s view.
- Instruct children not to play in vehicles and place keys in areas children cannot reach.