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What is a Rear Seat Reminder System?

Liz Kim | Jun 10, 2020

A potentially life-saving feature, a rear seat reminder system is designed to remind a vehicle’s driver that a child, or a pet, or even a grocery bag containing ice cream, might be in the back seat. It activates when the driver opens one of the vehicle’s rear doors before driving and issues a visible or audible alert when the driver stops, puts the vehicle in park, and turns off the engine.

rear seat reminder system to remind drivers to check back seats

Why do Rear Seat Reminder Systems Exist?

General Motors was the first automaker to offer a rear seat reminder system in response to the steady drumbeat of awful stories that make their way into local news broadcasts each summer. Typically, these reports recount an instance of a parent or guardian who forgets they have an infant or toddler in the back seat. They arrive at their destination, and for whatever reason, fail to bring the child out of the vehicle with them, resulting in a tragic mistake.

Yet even with greater awareness of the problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that for the past 20 years, an average of 38 lives are lost every year due to heat-related deaths in vehicles. The problem spiked in 2018, during which it happened 58 times. These deaths are concentrated in the summer, but even on a mild day, a car’s interior can reach dangerous heat levels in a short period of time.

Enter GM and, now, multiple car companies that have taken on the challenge to do their part to remind drivers of their precious cargo. The systems go further than that, working just as effectively to keep you from accidentally leaving a pet in a hot car, groceries that could melt or spoil, or even something of importance or value that you’d rather not leave inside the vehicle.

How do Rear Seat Reminder Systems Work?

Most rear seat reminder systems use the door sequencing technology described in the first paragraph of this article. This approach is used by GM vehicles, and a rear seat reminder system is reportedly standard in all 2020 Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models. This makes GM the first carmaker to offer the technology across its entire lineup. 

Other automakers have this feature, too, with various levels of implementation across lineups. For example, you can find it on many 2020 Nissan vehicles, the 2020 Subaru Ascent and Forester, and the 2020 Toyota Highlander. Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Honda, and Nissan have announced that all of their passenger vehicles will have a rear seat reminder as standard equipment in the future.

Some carmakers go beyond the door sequencing type of a rear seat reminder. Hyundai, for example, offers an upgrade to its door-sequencing Rear Occupant Alert system for the 2020 Palisade and Santa Fe. It uses a motion detection system with an ultrasonic sensor that can detect motion inside of the vehicle for up to 24 hours. If this upgraded technology detects motion, such as from a child waking from a nap, it automatically flashes the vehicle’s headlights, honks the horn, and sends the owner a text message or email through the Blue Link connected services system.

Hyundai says that by 2022, most of its models will standardize the rear seat reminder system, with the motion sensor available as an add-on feature for more of their vehicles. It is worth noting that Hyundai’s corporate cousin, Kia, offers the ultrasonic 24-hour motion sensor as standard equipment for the Telluride SUV.

Rear Seat Reminder Systems to be Standard in Most New Cars

According to the Detroit News, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers estimates that by 2025 98% of cars in the U.S. will have this safety feature as standard equipment. 

If you want a similar function for your older vehicle, or if you’re buying a used car, truck, or SUV, a handful of aftermarket gadgets are available that use a motion sensor to alert drivers that something is moving inside the vehicle after it has been turned off.

A tragedy averted. A life saved. The rear seat reminder system is a worthy cause, indeed.

The information in this article is from various sources. It was accurate on June 10, 2020 but may have changed since that date.

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