Last year, 49 children died in hot cars, making 2018 one of the worst years for hot car deaths, according to the National Safety Council.
Published: January 31, 2019
By: Lori Chandler Pruitt
A technology company in Huntsville, Venturi Inc., has received a patent for a device that helps prevent this heartbreak. The device, called Payton’s Charm, detects the presence of even tiny amounts of carbon dioxide inside a closed vehicle and alerts via phone that something breathing – a child, animal – is in the car and may need help. Carbon dioxide is what we exhale when breathing. It also keeps track of the temperature in the car and knows when the car is in motion.
“It’s a device that you plug in your vehicle, configure once and forget about,” says Ben Payment, a Venturi software engineer who developed the device, named for a child who died in a hot car in Florida. “The monitor is always on the job and will alert you if someone is in there.” If it detects CO2, it will text you first to tell you something is in the car and may need help. If you don’t respond, it texts a second person. If that person doesn’t respond, there’s a quick decision tree that ends with a 911 call.
The device also will text periodically to let you know it is working. “The hope is that you never have to hear from it due to an emergency,” Payment says. “But if you do hear from it, it’s a blessing and a lifesaver.”
Payment’s boss, a grandparent, was concerned about the issue, and challenged employees to come up with an idea.
Four years later, the device, about the size of a garage door opener, was done. “This was done after hours, nights, to get this done,” Payment says. “We also partnered with universities, auto suppliers, engineers and others. We are passionate about getting this into the consumer’s hands.” The device is being marketed by VI-Enterprises, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Venturi.
Interestingly, the reaction to such a device has been mixed. “We’ve had an incredible knee jerk reaction from people who say it’s bad parenting and they would never forget their child in a car,” Payment says. “We are trying to get past that reaction. It may be that you are a perfect person, but have you ever forgotten to lock your car doors at home? Could your child get in the car or van and get locked in? Even your pet could get into the car while you are unloading groceries from the trunk and you may not know it.
“Overcoming that perception is the biggest hurdle, but the truth is, we are living in a distracted age,” Payment explains. “And about a third of the hot car deaths are from kids who get into an unlocked car to play and get locked in.”
Amber Rollins, director of KidsAndCars.org, says on the group’s website that people are in denial this could happen to them, “and that’s why we continue to see it happen. Education and awareness are not enough – we’ve got to be focusing on technology because we’ve proven year after year that knowing this can happen to you and hearing it on the news and knowing it happens to great parents…is not changing anything.”
Distractions are an issue – as well as tired and stressed parents. “When a parent is tired and stressed, the brain functions differently,” Rollins says. “It’s these competing memory systems in our brain, and going on autopilot…which is what happens when someone drives past the daycare and goes straight to work, thinking their kid is safe and sound all day – is not a conscious decision, it just happens.”
Even safety regulations like requiring rear-facing, back car seats for younger children can increase the tendency to forget, Payment says. Longer commutes to work, a change from the regular routine, miscommunication and more also can result in tragedy.
Rollins advises people to always keep cars locked, even if you don’t have children. Keep keys out of children’s reach, and if a child goes missing, check the inside and trunk of all cars immediately.
Payton’s Charm plans to be on the market by the summer. “We like to say that we are not only looking to sell a life-saving device, but also peace of mind,” says Payment, who is an uncle to four children ages 11 to 3.
For more information, go to www.paytonscharm.com.
Lori Pruitt is associate editor of Birmingham Parent.