CommentaryOPINION

Appeal to Car Manufacturers to Help Prevent Child Deaths in Cars

By Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS

This is an open appeal to all car manufacturers in Malaysia – Perodua, Proton, Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan and the rest.

We have had 3 deaths of young children in cars due to thermal injury in the past four to five weeks:

On 5 October 2023 an 8 month baby died in Cheras, KL.
On 25 October a 16 month old child died in Terengganu.
On 9 November a 2 year old child died in Ara Damansara, KL.

The devastation that the parents must be experiencing is beyond comprehension. Our hearts go out to the bereaved parents and we hope they receive the support and understanding needed at such a tragic time of loss.

As Paediatricians we are distressed with such child deaths as we know that they are preventable. We need to view this as a national crisis and work together to prevent further deaths. A number of mechanisms have been suggested to help with prevention.

Of the suggestions, the most effective is engineering – using technology to make cars safer for children. Many car manufacturers overseas have long incorporated routine safety devices in their vehicles. These include:

  1.   Car seats with built-in sensors/alarms – these let the driver know through a series of alarms when a child is still in the seat when the car is turned off. There are also sensor devices that can be added to a car seat to notify drivers of a child in the seat when the car is switched off. There are also child safety seats with heat sensors and alarms.
  1.   Rear Seat Reminder – this system gives a routine audio reminder to the driver to check the rear of the car when the engine is switched off or when you open your driver door.
  1.   Child Presence Detectors or Cabin Awareness – these are video or sensor-based systems that are designed to sense micro-movements, heartbeats or breathing when the car is turned off and alert the driver (alarm or handphone alert).
  1.   Another simple way is to install seat belt alarms for rear seat passengers that will obviously alarm once the car switches off and the belt buckle is still connected. The technology is already present in many cars and just needs to be incorporated into the rear seat belts.

While increased parental, child care providers and societal vigilance is needed, that will not prevent many such deaths. We require mechanisms that go beyond human behaviour. Injury prevention research has shown that education and behaviour change are poor mechanisms for prevention. Artificial intelligence or hybrid intelligence is the way forward.

Hence, we appeal to all car manufacturers to urgently put in place routine child safety technology in all new cars; if not already installed. The most promising technologies are rear seat reminders, seat belt alarms and child presence detectors. In addition, offer, at reasonable prices, to retrofit such technologies in all cars already on the road when they come for routine service inspection.

Car manufacturers have made a large profit from the public, it is time to give back. Please do not allow this deadly trend to continue by inaction. Cars must be safe devices to transport children, not death traps.

Thank you.

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