NISSAN HAS YOUR BACK
In the summer of 2014, Marlene Mendoza grabbed a bite after work, drove home, parked her car and went inside her Nashville home, forgetting a container of left over food she had stashed on the back seat.
The next morning her car reeked of lasagna gone bad. But the stench wasn’t the only thing that lingered.
Pregnant at the time and already the mother of a 2-year-old, Mendoza said her memory lapse — like the ones we all occasionally experience — forced her to confront a terrifying question — “What if I left something far more important back there?”
Serendipitously, Mendoza not only works for Nissan USA, when the leftovers inspired her “momma bear” epiphany she was working on a project looking to come up with a solution to weary or sleep-deprived caregivers forgetting children in the back seat of a car.
In the past two decades, 772 children have died from being left in hot vehicles, according to NoHeatStroke.org, a website that tracks the tragic and preventable fatalities that occur in the United States. In 2017, 43 children died in hot vehicles. So far, 29 youngsters have perished this year. (For more info, visit http://noheatstroke.org/)
It only takes 10 minutes in a closed passenger compartment for temperatures to reach lethal levels. We checked the cabin temperature of a midsize sedan parked in the Texas summer sun and saw readings exceeding 130 degrees Fahrenheit; a piece of chrome trim on the center console registered 155 degrees.
When Mendoza discussed the lasagna incident with colleague Elsa Foley and other Nissan coworkers, she heard similar war stories — including someone who had forgotten an ice cream cake in a car.
Mendoza and Foley came up with the idea of using the vehicle’s door sensors and tying in to the vehicle door sequence logic. They presented their proposal, the project was green-lighted and development shifted to Nissan’s technical center in Farmington Hills, Mich.
Nissan’s Rear Door Alert feature tracks whether a rear door is opened and closed both before and after a trip. When the vehicle is in park and the ignition is turned off, the system will trigger a notification in the instrument panel if a rear door was used prior to a trip, but not re-opened after the trip. The alert then progresses to subtle, distinctive chirps of the vehicle’s horn.
“If you open a rear door and put something in the rear seat, Rear Door Alert will help you remember when you get to your destination that you may have forgotten it,” Mendoza said. “By drawing attention back to the vehicle while the driver is walking away, the honking alerts you to recheck the back seat.”
RDA works even if the car off. The feature, for which Mendoza and Foley were awarded a U.S. patent, can be disabled via the vehicle’s menu. Perhaps fittingly, the first Nissan to include the standard RDA technology is the current 2018 Pathfinder sport utility vehicle.
The safeguard will roll out as standard equipment on eight 2019 Nissan models, including the Rogue, Sentra and all-new Altima. RDA is expected to be standard on all four-door Nissans by 2022.