Car Safety Devices Give Parents Peace of Mind

ByABC News via via logo

July 22, 2005 — -- Every year, dozens of children die in preventable non-traffic related car incidents such as trunk entrapments, heatstroke (intentionally and unintentionally leaving children in the car), back-overs and power window strangulations. At least 110 children have died in these types of accidents this year, according to the national non-profit organization KidsAndCars.org.

One common problem that puts kids in danger is leaving them alone in vehicles -- whether the engines are on or off.

A recent poll by Harris Interactive commissioned by Kids In Cars shows that up to 30 percent of American adults with children under 12 have left their child alone in a vehicle. Of those, 25 percent left them at a gas station, 24 percent at a convenience store, 24 percent in a garage or driveway at home, followed by the grocery store, post office and dry cleaners.

A friend of mine is known to leave her children in the car while she runs in to Starbucks for her morning java. She's the mother of three, well-educated, a registered nurse.

"It's a problem that crosses all social and economic boundaries," says Michele Struttmann, director of the non-profit KidsInCars.org. Struttman's 2-year-old son, Harrison, was killed by a van that was put into motion by two toddlers left alone in the vehicle while their parents stood behind the running van talking.

And the potential hazards with cars and kids don't decrease as they get older. We simply have new fears and concerns -- such as how to minimize reckless driving behaviors in teenagers.

While nothing can replace parental supervision, there are a number of products on the market (or coming to market soon) that can help parents prevent deadly accidents and ease our fears.

Here's your guide to the latest and greatest gizmos to help keep children of all ages safe in and around cars.

According to KidsAndCars.org (not to be confused with KidsInCars.org), 24 percent of non-traffic related automobile fatalities in kids 15 years or younger are due to a child being left in the car in hot weather. "There are systems already installed in our vehicles to warn us that we have left our headlights on or our keys in the ignition. Our precious children deserve at least the same protection," said Janette Fennell of Kids And Cars.

Exhausted and distracted working parents can simply forget to drop their child at daycare and go straight to work. They grab their purse or briefcase off the passenger's seat and head in to work, never realizing that they have a quiet or sleeping child in the back seat. Or, other parents leave their child in the car for a "quick errand" not realizing that even mild temperatures can be deadly to small children.

Helfpul Gadget and Tips:

NASA Child Presence Sensor (CPS) ($20-$30 Available Early 2006)

Developed by NASA with the input of Kids And Cars, the Child Presence Sensor contains two parts: A small sensor that can be slipped under the padding of any child-restraint device; and an alarm that gets attached to the driver's keychain. If the driver leaves the vehicle without first removing the child, the keychain alarm beeps continuously. This product is expected to be available to the general public in early 2006.

Tips: There are several things you can do to avoid intentionally or unintentionally leaving your children in the car (tips provided with collaboration of KidsInCars.org and KidsAndCars.org)

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's 2004 Study of the Misuse of Child Restraints, 72.6 percent of all car seats had critical misuse errors (although other studies state this number as high as 90 percent). The most-common mistakes recorded were loose straps securing the child to the seat, and loose vehicle belts securing the seat to the car.

It's happened to all of us parents: We put the child in the car seat and forget to buckle the harness, or the LATCH or seatbelt attachments wiggle-jiggle loose and before we know it the car seat is moving all over the place. Some parents have to deal with perpetual escapees, or children who unbuckle themselves and climb out of the child seat while driving.

Safety Gadgets and Tips

Tattle Tale Smart Car Seat by Lennox Juvenile ($159-$199)

Lenox Juvenile Group has created the "world's first child car seat with 'smart' technology." The Tattle Tale constantly monitors proper use of the seat and responds with verbal cues to let the parent know if there's a potential danger. Verbal warnings include "Warning, child not safe, buckle harness," "Harness buckled, vehicle belt tight," "Warning, car seat is loose, tighten vehicle belt," and "Warning, child climbing out."

Tips: Every child safety seat and every car is different, making for an infinite number of difficulties while trying to install a seat properly.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some premature and low birth weight infants, may be subject to oxygen desaturation when placed in a semi-upright position in car safety seats. Some families have infants that suffer from influx and choking, or seizures. Almost all moms sometimes have an irrational fear that their newborn will spontaneously stop breathing. I myself rode in the back seat next to my newborn just to make sure her head wasn't flopping over.

Safety Gadgets and Tips

Summer Infant Automobile Video Monitor ($170 approx.)

Turning around to check on your children can be a great distraction and driving hazard not only to yourself and your passengers, but to everyone on the road. The Automobile Video Monitor by Summer Infant can be installed in almost any car to help parents keep an eye on back-seat passengers (rear facing or third-row passengers). A color monitor with night vision works in any lighting situation. A camera eye is attached to a headrest and adjusted to point at one child. (It's not big enough to monitor more than one). A small video screen can be attached to the dash with hook and loop tape and is powered by the car's 12V outlet. The monitor is turned on and off manually.

Tips:

A new law has been passed mandating that all vehicles after the 2002 product year must have emergency trunk releases. However, older vehicles may have the lurking and deadly danger of a trunk that is inescapable.

After she and her husband were abducted and locked in the trunk of a car while their 9-month-old baby was thrown out of the vehicle in his car seat, Janette Fennell of KidsAndCars.org managed to pass this law (they all survived relatively unscathed, by the way). And, by now, everyone's familiar with the tragedy in New Jersey last month of the three young boys who were playing in the family car when the trunk lid closed on them and they died from hyperthermia and asphyxia.

Safety Gadgets and Tips:

Quick-Out Emergency Trunk Release Kit ($7.50 KidsAndCars.org)

The Quick-Out Emergency Trunk Release Kit is a simple and inexpensive way to retrofit any vehicle with an emergency trunk release. This may save your life or your children's lives.

Tips: (provided with collaboration from KidsInCars.org)

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 2,400 children are treated in emergency rooms every year after being struck by or rolled over by a vehicle in reverse. KidsAndCars.org found at least 392 back-over child deaths between 2000 and 2004.

Two-year-old Drew Campell died on Easter Sunday 2003 after being hit by his father's truck as it was pulling out of the garage. More than 60 percent of back-up incidents involve large SUVs, trucks or vans. KidsAndCars.org is working with Consumers Union to pass new legislation (HR2330) mandating that new vehicles be equipped with some type of back-up detection system.

Back-up Detection Monitoring Systems

There are several different types of systems available for aftermarket installation in any vehicle. A sonar system alerts the driver with an audible tone when a person or object is behind the car. A visual system uses a small camera eye mounted above the license plate and projects the image of what's behind the car onto a video screen at the front of a vehicle. Systems such as the HitchCAM, EchoMaster and Vizua Logic (see slideshow) turn on automatically when the vehicle is put into reverse.

Tips:

Since 1990, at least 40 children have been killed by power windows. The windows can exert 30 to 80 pounds of force, while it takes just 22 pounds of force to suffocate an infant.

How It Happens: Rocker or toggle switches allow a child (or adult) to accidentally activate the power window just by leaning on the switch. From here it's easy for a head or other body part to get stuck in the closing window.

A new bill proposed by Kids And Cars and Consumers Union (HR2330) suggest automakers include auto-reverse function as a standard feature. Auto-reverse, or pinch protection as it's otherwise called, allows the window to roll back down when it encounters resistance (similar to a garage door).

Tips:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds in the United States (more than 68,000 have died in car accidents in the past decade). For teens driving with two or more passengers, his/her risk for a crash is increased by almost 70 percent. Monitoring programs and devices have reduced accidents among truckers by 70 percent. They may have a similar effect with teen drivers.

Teen drivers are faced with many more high-tech distractions when learning to drive than we were growing up. Cell phones, i-Pods, text messaging and more can make it even more difficult for a new driver to focus on the road. Monitoring devices tell teens that someone is watching.

Safety Gadgets and Tips

TellMyMom.com ($55 per year)

Tell My Mom is a low-tech service that uses a "How's My Driving? Tell-My-Mom.com" bumper sticker on the back of the teen's car. Other drivers can call in (or log onto the Web site) to report dangerous or erratic driving behaviors. A report is then sent to the parents via regular mail or e-mail. Parents are advised to use the information constructively and teach their teens accident reduction and defensive driving techniques.

CarChip ($139.95)

CarChip is a small "black box" that is plugged into the teen's car to record information such as speed, distance, accelerations, decelerations, quick starts and hard braking. This system comes along with a computer program and connector cable for the parent to easily download the data. Data is presented in a chart format. An upgraded CarChip can be set to tone an alarm when "user-set speed, acceleration and braking limits are exceeded."

TeenArriveAlive.com ($14.99-$24.99 per month plus activation fee and Nextel subscription fees)

Teen Arrive Alive is a dynamic program that combines an "Am I Driving Safely" decal (similar to Tell-My-Mom.com) along with a GPS-enabled Nextel cell phone so parents can access updated driving information on their teen any time of day or night.

When a report is filed using the decal, the parent is immediately notified by telephone, voice mail, e-mail or through the TeenArriveAlive.com Web site. There is also the option of immediately alerting the teen driver using the speaker on the cell phone with a message stating, "This is the Teen Arrive Alive notification system alerting you that a new driving report has been received on your decal. Thank you, and please drive responsibly."

The GPS monitoring system allows parents to log on to a secure area of the Web site and view a map of where their teen is traveling, and how quickly. While the cell phone's power is on, this data updates itself every two minutes.

Teen Arrive Alive also offers a 'Teen Rewards Program' as an incentive to practicing safe driving techniques. Teens earn points for good driving reports. These points translate to drawings for prizes such as gift cards to restaurants and clothing stores, music, movies, video games, college scholarships or potentially a new car.

Tips:

*The full archive of "Car Mom" Kristin Varela's Mother Proof reviews can be found at www.MotherProof.com

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events