New Radar Technology Approved by FCC Could Reduce Hot Car Deaths

The in-car systems are sensitive enough to detect a baby breathing, and could send alerts if a child is left behind in a car

2022 Genesis GV70 SUV Genesis

To prevent the deaths of children left behind in hot cars, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has cleared the way for auto manufacturers to install highly sensitive in-car radar systems that can detect the presence of a child in a vehicle and alert caregivers before it’s too late.

“Automakers should be utilizing every technology available to prevent kids dying in hot cars and this provides yet another avenue for them,” says Emily Thomas, automotive safety engineer at Consumer Reports. She says that the new radar-based systems have the potential to save many lives.

On average, more than 38 children die each year in hot cars, according to noheatstroke.org, an organization that closely monitors these incidents. Twenty automakers agreed in 2019 that they would install rear-seat reminder systems as standard equipment in their vehicles by the 2025 model year. Safety advocacy groups, including Consumer Reports, support federal legislation that would require effective heatstroke prevention systems in all new passenger vehicles.

“We’re urging companies and policymakers to give parents a simple, integrated, and reliable backstop to help keep the unimaginable from happening,” says William Wallace, CR’s manager of safety policy. “The technology is available to prevent these tragedies and should come standard on every new car.”

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The new, radar-based systems required waivers from the FCC because they would operate in a part of the radio spectrum that is subject to rules administered by the federal agency. Six companies—Brose North America, IEE Sensing, Infineon Technologies Americas, Tesla, Valeo North America, and Vayyar Imaging—petitioned for waivers, which the FCC granted yesterday.

So far, automakers already have installed a variety of rear-seat reminders in some vehicles, including ultrasonic sensors, and other simpler setups that can tell if a rear door has been opened before or during a trip.

Because they’re not yet available, CR hasn’t tested any of the new radar-based systems. But their proponents say that the systems are sensitive enough to detect a baby breathing. For example, Genesis claims the upcoming GV70 SUV will be the first vehicle to use a radar-based rear occupant alert. The automaker says the technology is much more sophisticated than the ultrasonic sensors offered in its other models. CR will be sure to test this feature as soon as we purchase a GV70 for our vehicle test program.

CR and other safety advocates have long warned of the dangers of leaving children and pets unattended in cars. Even the most diligent caregiver isn’t immune to leaving a child behind, experts say, with many examples of small changes in routine, fatigue, and minor distractions leading to a parent or caregiver’s memory lapse with tragic consequences. Children also have gotten into closed vehicles and ended up trapped inside—a scenario and cause of death that increased by 10 percent during the pandemic, according to kidsandcars.org, a safety advocacy group.

And it’s not just a summertime problem: Even on days with mild weather, temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach dangerous levels within an hour, Consumer Reports’ testing shows. “Even on a 61-degree day, our tests have found that in one hour, the temperature inside of a car can reach 105 degrees,” says Thomas.


Head shot photo of CRO Cars CIA editor Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.