Recently, Hyundai made a commitment to standardize its Rear Occupant Alert (ROA) system by 2022. This is a hot car technology system that reminds drivers to check the backseat before they leave the car based on rear door activity.
The timely announcement follows an unfortunate streak of hot car tragedies plaguing the summer months. In July, 8 children lost their lives from vehicular heatstroke.
The numbers weren’t always this high. In 1990, 5 children total died from vehicular heatstroke. But since then, the numbers have only grown bleaker. So far this year, 42 kids have died from being in a hot vehicle for too long. Several families have also lost their pets in the same way. But Hyundai’s pledge can drastically change these statistics for the better.
The danger of hot car deaths is rarely the result of parents deliberately leaving a child or pet in the vehicle. It usually occurs as a mistake when parents are focusing on too many different tasks throughout the day.
Seeking to help these occasionally absentminded-parents, Hyundai conceptualized the ROA in 2015 to remind drivers of a rear seat occupant before they exit the vehicle. “Our intent wasn’t necessarily to completely prevent, but instead to mitigate… to give peace of mind where we can,” says Hyundai Motor America product planning manager Trevor Lai.
How It Works
Hyundai offers two forms of ROA, one with motion detection and one without. The basic, non-detective ROA cues drivers with audio and visuals to check the backseat if a rear door is opened prior to the vehicle’s ignition.
The version with motion detection, called the Ultrasonic ROA, is notably more advanced than its non-detective counterpart. Building on top of the basic ROA’s audio-visual reminders, the Ultrasonic ROA features a system that will trigger a blaring car horn alarm if there is any movement in the backseat after the driver locks and exits the vehicle. This safety measure will alert the driver and passersby if a child climbs into the back on their own, which is how 27% of hot car deaths occur, according to Amber Rollins, director of national child safety advocacy nonprofit KidsandCars.org.
But the Ultrasonic ROA’s “different layers of protection” doesn’t end there, says Lai. If the in-car alerts and startling alarm horns still don’t catch the driver’s attention, the driver will also receive a text and email notification that the system detected movement in the backseat.
As part of its pledge, Hyundai plans to expand the number of models that can support the Ultrasonic ROA by 2022.
Aside from Hyundai, other automakers with rear-seat detection technology available in their models include Nissan, General Motors Co. (GM), Subaru, and Kia. These same companies also offer basic, non-detective rear seat reminder systems like Hyundai’s ROA.
But of all the automakers, Hyundai is the first to integrate telematics—smartphone communication—with rear-seat reminders.
Some Features to Note
The basic and Ultrasonic ROA are “robust” systems, says Hyundai Motor America senior PR manager Miles Johnson. But some parents and child safety advocates question the technology’s efficacy, especially its susceptibility to disarming.
Since both basic and Ultrasonic ROA rely on door-logic sequencing, the alert to check the backseat will only appear if the rear doors are opened prior to the vehicle turning on. This means that drivers who turn the vehicle on and off without reopening the rear doors during that time will not receive reminders to check behind them. A simple stop for gas easily deactivates the technology that could save your child. Allowing your pet to enter through the front doors of the vehicle will do the same.
Both reminder systems also won’t activate if any of the car’s windows are open.
A Long-Term Solution
The need for hot car technology is urgent and apparent, but creation and implementation doesn’t happen overnight. It took Hyundai four years to develop its basic and Ultrasonic ROA systems from conception to final product.
Long-term solutions require long-term development, especially when they’re made to save lives. Johnson wishes more people understood this. “There’s people behind every system in a car. People forget about that sometimes… There’s a piece of each one of those people that shapes the vehicle from the design,” he says.
Johnson and Lai are happy Hyundai’s newly made promise to standardize its hot car technology can assuage some of the worries of safety-concerned families. “We’re proud of what we’ve done,” Lai says.