Cars fitted with child detection devices could save lives

Young child asleep in car seat.

Sue Hewitt

Posted February 17, 2020

Cars to have child detection devices in order to achieve highest vehicle safety rating.

Cars sold in Australia will soon have to supply new technology to prevent babies, toddlers and pets being accidentally locked in vehicles, in order to get the highest safety rating.

The nation’s car safety rating body has called on car manufacturers that already have the technology to act now to save lives.

The “child presence detection” technology, which involves such devices as in-car motion sensors and cameras to alert drivers if a child has been left in a car, will be required for cars to get the highest safety rating by authorities in Australia and Europe from 2022.

Australia’s car safety rating scheme is administered by independent body ANCAP (Australasia New Car Assessment Program), which says technology to prevent children being locked in cars is essential.

RACV has applauded ANCAP’s initiative to introduce child presence detection to protect young children in cars. 

 “The implementation of the latest safety technologies is vital to reduce the number of people who are injured or lose their lives on the road,” says RACV’s road safety expert Elvira Lazar.

“The child presence detection warning system is an important step to further protect our most vulnerable passengers and, being a low-cost initiative, RACV would like to see this technology available on all cars.”

RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance patrols last year rescued an average of three kids a day from locked cars, as well as hundreds of pets. RACV’s Check Keys, Check Kids campaign aims to prevent parents and carers accidentally locking children and pets in hot cars.

ANCAP chief executive James Goodwin says some vehicles already feature the new child safety technology, including the Hyundai Santa Fe.

“We’re saying to vehicle brands [that] if you’ve got the technology available now, bring it in as soon as you can as it could save a life,” he says.  

“Child presence detection will be introduced into our test program from 2022, and this will build on our existing child occupant protection and safety assist assessments.”

"One of the key roles ANCAP has is to influence vehicle safety design and encourage innovation, and it is heartening to see vehicle brands lead the way and be early adopters of these important safety features.”

The Hyundai Santa Fe’s “rear occupant alert” uses sensors in the roof to detect movement and will sound an alarm once the driver has left the car and locked the door.

A Japanese technology company, Nidec Mobility, has teamed up with the University of Waterloo in Canada to produce its own version of in-car sensors to prevent children being left in cars. In a recent statement Nidec says it plans to have a prototype ready early this year and start mass production in time for the 2022 Australian and European safety deadline.

“By combining the radar sensor with an in-vehicle camera, it becomes possible to distinguish infants or pets unable to leave the car on their own,” the statement says. When a child or pet is detected the system can sound an alarm or send out warnings to drivers’ digital devices.

The University of Waterloo’s Professor George Shaker says the detection system, which uses artificial intelligence, is so affordable “it could become standard equipment in all vehicles”.

He says it’s small and designed to be mounted to a car ceiling and could prevent car doors locking if a child is detected inside, as well as sounding an alarm. “The low-power device, which runs on a vehicle’s battery, distinguishes between living beings and inanimate objects by detecting subtle breathing movements,” he says.

“Researchers are now exploring the use of that capability to monitor the vital signs of drivers for indications of fatigue, distraction, impairment, illness or other issues.”