Evaluation of Hyperthermia Prevention Technologies

Principal Investigator: Kristy Arbogast, PhD, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

The objective of this study is to evaluate countermeasures designed to prevent children 0 to 24 months of age from being left behind in closed, parked vehicles, which has the potential to result in hyperthermia.

Principal Investigator: Kristy Arbogast, PhD, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia  

Below is an executive summary of this project. Please note that this summary describes results and interpretation that may not be final. Final interpretation of results will be in the peer-reviewed literature.

Dr. Kristy Arbogast at The Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS) was tasked by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct a research study related to heat stroke as a result of children being left unattended inside vehicles. Based on a review of NHTSA’s databases, heat stroke is the most common form of non traffic-related fatality suffered by children 14 and younger. Heat stroke — roughly defined as a body temperature of approximately 104 — occurs when the body cannot dissipate the heat it absorbs and produces when exposed to high temperatures, and can arise even in seemingly moderate temperatures. For example, on an 80 day the temperature inside of a closed, parked car can reach fatal levels in ten minutes, according to NHTSA. A majority of the NHTSA-analyzed fatalities occurred due to a change in the driver’s routine that caused them to forget the child was in the vehicle and almost all of the victims were under 3 years old. 

CChIPS Researches evaluated currently available technologies that were designed to prevent children from being left behind in closed, parked vehicles.  The intent of this study was to determine if these technologies were effective in 1) determining the presence of a child, 2) alerting the caretaker, and 3) influencing the behavior of the caretaker. After identifying a number of heat stroke prevention technologies, Dr. Arbogast and her team narrowed their list down to three devices, which they subjected to a series of tests.

The devices Dr. Arbogast and her team selected for testing were the Suddenly Safe Pressure Pad, the ChildMinder Smart Clip System, and the ChildMinder Smart Pad, all of which were available commercially on the market at the time of the study and were designed to prevent children from being left in locked cars by sensing the presence of a child in a child restraint. Before testing the devices with volunteers, the devices were put through a variety of “regular usage scenarios” — such as determining whether cell phone signals interfered with their operation — and accidents, like having apple juice spilled on them. Then, for each device, a typical commute was simulated using volunteers.

Dr. Arbogast and her team found that none of the devices were reliable across these various evaluations. The devices “often required adjusting of the position of the child within the child restraint,” and issues with signal interferences and an inability to operate “in the presence of liquids” were observed, according to the report. Moreover, in order to function correctly the devices require a number of active steps on the part of the caregiver, and the devices would not help in scenarios where the driver or parent intentionally leaves the child in the vehicle (such as to run an errand). 

“The devices required considerable effort from the parent to ensure smooth operation and often that operation was not consistent,” Dr. Arbogast noted, adding “during the simulated commute with actual human child volunteers, some of the devices often turned on or off or beeped during the drive.”

Unfortunately, “at this time there is not a completely reliable engineering solution that can function as a stand-alone preventative measure to eliminate a child’s risk of heatstroke in a vehicle,” Dr. Arbogast noted. “As a result, education aimed at parents and caregivers and the implementation of behavior routines to prevent this from happening is critically important,” she concluded.