People keep leaving children in hot cars. This teen thinks her invention can help. – Washington Post

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014

Alissa Chavez invented a system to alert parents when they’ve left a young child in a car seat. (Courtesy Alissa Chavez)

The unthinkable keeps happening.

The 18th hot car death of the year was recorded Thursday — on the same day that a national public service campaign kicked off to warn parents about the dangers of leaving kids in hot cars.

In the latest awful incident, a 10-month-old girl died in Wichita, Kan., after being left in a vehicle that was parked outside her foster parents’ house.

One New Mexico teenager’s invention might someday prevent such deaths.

Alissa Chavez, a 17-year-old from Albuquerque, said she has designed a car-seat alarm system called “Hot Seat” that might prevent people from accidentally leaving young children in cars. She’s now trying to raise money to build a prototype.

Chavez, whose mother owns a day-care center, said she remembers hearing about three children who died in hot cars during  the summer before she was in eighth grade. “I felt that would be a good project for my eighth-grade science fair project — to find something to prevent those accidents from happening,” Chavez told The Washington Post on Friday.

She bought a door alarm from her local hardware store and tinkered with it to create a system that would alert parents if they left the vicinity of a young child who was still in a car seat.

Her project was a success (she won the science fair), and for the last three years, she’s been fine-tuning the design and creating a business plan.

The current version of the device uses pressure-sensor technology instead of vicinity technology. A parent places a sensor pad under the cover of a child car seat. The pad has a sensor that communicates with a key fob carried by the parent to determine how far the parent is from the vehicle. If the parent is more than 40 feet away from the vehicle, the pad will check to see if it feels the child in the seat. If it doesn’t, the alarms will not sound. If it does, then three alarms will go off — the key fob, a phone app and the vehicle alarm itself, which will alert everyone in the vicinity of the car.

Even though the invention is built to prevent hot car deaths, the pad is not sensitive to temperature, Chavez said. “I have found that it’s dangerous to leave a child in the car at any time,” she said.

Now, she said, she needs $20,000 to fund a prototype.

There is already demand for the kind of technology that Chavez has designed. On Friday, NBC reported, the public safety group Kids and Cars released a statement asking for car manufacturers to build technology to prevent hot car deaths.

“The fact is that our vehicles already remind us to buckle our seat belts, warn us if our gas tank is getting low, let us know if the keys are left in the ignition, or if a door is open,” the statement said. “With all of these reminder systems already in place, including a warning if our headlights are left on, who has decided that it’s more important not to have a dead car battery than a dead baby?”


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