B.C. would support a mandatory alert system to let parents know if they’ve left a child in the back seat.
Less than a year before a toddler died in a hot car on a Burnaby street, a Quebec coroner recommended that alert systems be installed in all Canadian cars after a similar death in that province.
It was the second time a Quebec coroner had made the recommendation; the first in 2003 when a 23-month-old girl was left in a hot car in Montreal after her father forgot to drop her at the babysitter’s. Last year, two other children died in hot cars in Canada, a six-month-old in Montreal and a three-year-old in Burlington, Ont., when their fathers forgot to drop them off.
Last week’s death of a 16-month-old boy, who spent several hours in a hot parked car at Kingsway and Inman Avenue, was the first time this type of death has been recorded in B.C.
Police are investigating. A Burnaby RCMP spokeswoman said Thursday in an email she had nothing new to say. The B.C. Coroner’s Office on Thursday said it was also investigating and couldn’t say whether or not there would be a coroner’s inquest.
The B.C. coroner’s spokesman, Andy Watson, said in an email that his office does not know of any other heat-related deaths in B.C. where children or toddlers were left in a vehicle.
There have been no formal recommendations from B.C. coroners to equip vehicles with a technological tool to remind drivers to check their back seats before leaving their vehicle, but B.C.’s public safety minister said he backs the recommendation from Quebec.
“The government would support the use of technology that provides an opportunity to make cars safer in any way possible — whether an app or sensors and alarms — to avert tragedies involving deaths inside a vehicle due to heat,” Mike Farnworth said in an email.
Transport Canada has reviewed detection systems, but “no sensors were effective enough in detecting infants left in a vehicle” because “infants can have erratic breathing and heartbeats, and they produce only small amounts of carbon dioxide, which all pose significant challenges in detecting their presence,” spokesman Simon Rivet said in an email.
Rivet said at least one car manufacturer has equipped its new vehicles with a system to alert drivers who had opened a back door before starting the vehicle to check the rear seat before leaving the car. But it doesn’t “detect the presence of children left in a car.”
Transport Canada is continuing to “monitor the development of any promising systems,” he said.
A GM Canada spokeswoman in an email said it equips its new vehicles with such a warning system. And Nissan has installed a rear-door alert in some of its vehicles that operates in the same way.
Various aftermarket warning systems are available, including those that send an alert to a mobile phone.
Police and safety advocates suggest parents develop routines to help them remember the baby — always leaving a key personal item such as a phone or briefcase next to the baby to remind them to open the back door, or always texting the other parent to confirm drop-off, or arranging with a daycare to always call parents if the child doesn’t arrive in the morning as scheduled.
There are an average of 38 deaths every year of children in hot cars in the U.S. Canadian statistics aren’t available.
Such deaths were unusual until the early 1990s, when safety experts recommended young children ride in rear-facing seats placed in the car’s back seat to prevent injury or death in a collision from passenger-side airbags in the front seat, according to the Washington Post.
It found U.S. parents who forgot babies in hot cars came from every socioeconomic, age, intelligence and education group, and that mothers are just as likely as fathers to forget about their children.
In the U.S., 40 per cent of the deaths are deemed accidental with no criminal intent to justify charges and 60 per cent face some sort of criminal negligence charges. It’s not known how many are found guilty.
In Canada, a Quebec father was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2003 but the Crown later dropped the charges, calling it a tragic accident.
Psychologists explain “forgotten baby syndrome” as a tragic outcome of a flawed memory, saying the part of the brain that deals with routine matters can be overwritten by the part of the brain that is consciously dealing with other matters. That means during routine situations, people operate on autopilot, which allows them to plan their day while driving to work.
In addition, the part of the brain dealing with routine is affected by stress, emotions, lack of sleep and change in routine.
David Diamond, a psychology professor in Florida who is an expert and has testified at trials of parents charged in such deaths, told The Post that all humans are subject to the same forgetfulness, saying if people have the capacity to forget their cellphone, they can potentially forget a child.
Such incidents are rare. In B.C., since 2014, 913 children under age two have died, the majority by natural causes (790 deaths or 87 per cent), according to the coroner. Of the 123 unnatural deaths, the leading cause of death is airway obstruction, 24; followed by drowning and motor-vehicle incidents, four each; blunt injuries, three; and falls and fires, two each, according to the coroner.