'Forgotten baby syndrome' is more common than you think. Here's how technology can help
For most parents, forgetting a child in the back seat of the car seems impossible.
But year after year, it happens.
A 2019 study from the Hospital for Sick Children found that, on average, one child dies every year in Canada because they were stranded in a hot vehicle. Usually, it's because the driver forgot they were there.
Just last week, tragedy struck a suburb in Greater Montreal after a toddler was found dead in the backseat 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 on Intelligent Vehicles (LIV) at the Université de Sherbrooke, who shared the benefits of this life-saving tech.
BACK SEAT ALERT SYSTEMS
Although not yet the norm for modern vehicles, integrated alert systems are an effective way to remind drivers to check the back seat before they lock up, according to Gingras.
While the specifics vary, the basic idea is this: you open the back door to put the baby in her car seat. The alert system makes a note of this. You drive, you park. You get out of the car.
If the back door stays closed, an alarm goes off. You take the baby 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 overall is there. It's just a question of implementing it and making it available for the larger public," said Gingras.
In the meantime, he recommends installing a commercial system.
"Maybe we should, on the short term, consider after-sale markets, where independent companies and tier companies could sell devices that could enhance the vehicle if it's not already equipped with this kind of technology."
A variety of these products have hit the market in recent years and can be found online.
CAR SEAT SENSORS
Another gadget with life-saving potential is the car seat sensor.
This tool works by detecting whether a child is buckled in or not. If the car is turned off but a child's presence is detected, an alert is sent to the driver.
The sensor is either built into the car seat itself or, like some back seat alert systems, can be purchased separately.
Car seat sensors are relatively new, meaning they're "more or less" reliable, said Gingras -- but they're certainly better than nothing.
"Even if we have a few false alarms or we have a very small portion of incidents which are not detected, at least if we can save a majority of the babies."
He hopes the technology and availability will evolve with demand
If "even one life" is saved, it's worth it.
IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE
Research has found so-called "forgotten baby syndrome" to be especially common when parents are getting used to a new routine.
The situation is only exacerbated by stress and a lack of sleep -- factors that most parents of young children are familiar with.
In 2021, a coroner's report found a Montreal father was overtired and over-stressed when he forgot his six-month-old boy in the car, resulting in his untimely death.
To make matters worse, the baby had recently begun a new daycare routine that his father was not yet accustomed to.
While changing the nature of stress and memory is difficult, pushing for the implementation of new technology is well within our grasp, said Gingras.
"The lawmakers, the government agencies should put more pressure on the automakers and on the child seat manufacturers," he said.
"[We need to] get these technologies embarked in vehicles as soon as possible."