For most parents, forgetting a child in the back seat of the car seems impossible.
But year after year, it happens.
A 2019 study by the Hospital for Sick Children found that, on average, one child dies each year in Canada because they were trapped in a hot vehicle. Usually, this is because the driver forgot they were there.
Just last week, tragedy struck a suburb in Greater Montreal after a child was found dead in the back seat of a car on a hot day.
Incidents like this can be avoided, experts say — especially with the use of technology.
CTV News spoke with Denis Gingras, director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Vehicles (LIV) at Université de Sherbrooke, who shared the benefits of this life-saving technology.
REAR INTERCUT SYSTEM SYSTEMS
Although not yet the norm for modern vehicles, built-in alarm systems are an effective way to remind drivers to check the back seat before locking up, according to Gingras.
While the specifics vary, the basic idea is this: you open the back door to put the child in her car seat. The alarm system notes this. You drive, you park. You get out of the car.
If the rear door remains closed, an alarm sounds. You take the child out of the car.
But given that the average lifespan of a car is between 10 and 15 years, many families won’t have access to this built-in technology for quite some time.
“The technology is generally there. It’s just a matter of implementing it and making it available to the wider public,” Gingras said.
In the meantime, he recommends installing a commercial system.
“Perhaps we should, in the short term, consider aftermarkets, where independent companies and tier companies can sell equipment that can upgrade the vehicle if it is not already equipped with this type of technology.”
A variety of these products have come on the market in recent years and can be found online.
SENSORS OF CAR SEATS
Another potentially life-saving gadget is the car seat sensor.
This tool works by detecting whether a child is tight or not. If the car is turned off, but the presence of a child is detected, an alert is sent to the driver.
The sensor is either built into the car seat itself or, like some rear seat alarm systems, can be purchased separately.
Car seat sensors are relatively new, which means they’re “more or less” reliable, Gingras said — but they’re certainly better than nothing.
“Even if we have some false alarms or we have a very small proportion of incidents that go undetected, at least if we can save the majority of babies.”
He hopes the technology and availability will evolve with demand
If “one more life” is saved, it’s worth it.
THIS CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE
Research has found that so-called “forgotten baby syndrome” is especially common when parents are getting used to a new routine.
The situation is only made worse by stress and lack of sleep — factors most parents of young children are familiar with.
In 2021, a coroner’s report revealed that a Montreal father was overtired and stressed when he left his six-month-old son in the car, resulting in his untimely death.
To make matters worse, the baby had recently started a new routine at daycare that his father wasn’t used to yet.
While changing the nature of stress and memory is difficult, the push to implement new technology is entirely within our control, Gingras said.
“Legislators, government agencies need to put more pressure on automakers and child seat manufacturers,” he said.
“[We need to] get these technologies into vehicles as soon as possible.”