When my daughters were babies, the thought of accidentally leaving them in the car could send me into a panic. After dropping them off at daycare, I’d pat their seats obsessively to be sure I’d taken them inside.
As they grew older and began to MacGyver their way out of their seatbelts, my anxiety went into overdrive every time we hit the road.
Now, a St. Louis dad, who had his dealings with his own little escape artist, has invented a way to ease our angst and keep our kids safer on every drive. Driver’s Little Helper, a smartphone-enabled car seat system, ensures our kids stay put in their car seats. And just as important, makes sure we don’t leave them behind in those seats.
The story behind his discovery
When Bob Steffens’s now 17-year-old son was a toddler, he’d play a game of wiggling out of his seatbelt and hiding on the backseat floor. Because his eyes were focused on the road, Steffens often didn’t realize he’d escaped until her felt a tiny finger tapping him on his back.
“Believe it or not, according to a study from Yale University, kids as young as one year old can manipulate a car seat buckle,” Steffens said. “They’re little Curious Georges in the backseat, with endless time to figure out the buckle and get themselves free. If an accident happens, the outlook’s not good for an unrestrained child.”
Steffens, who worked in the auto industry, kept his son’s escapades in the back of his mind as he and an engineering colleague developed a safety prototype, called iAlert, that would monitor a child’s movement in a car seat. iAlert was soon installed in seats manufactured by Tomy International, but when they exited the market in 2014, the technology disappeared along with them.
That’s when Steffens decided to take his knowledge and transform it into an affordable, stand-alone alert system that could be installed on any car seat, no matter than brand.
Within months, Driver’s Little Helper was born.
Better protected for the road ahead
Driver’s Little Helper comes complete with a sensor pad that is easily inserted between the car seat molding and fabric cover as well as a power pack that attaches to the back of the seat or booster.
Once a parent downloads the Driver’s Little Helper app, the sensor and the smartphone can communicate to let parents know whenever their little ones are unrestrained behind them so that they can respond immediately.
Explained Steffens, “The product is meant to duplicate the front seat experience in the backseat. If we as parents don’t have our seatbelt on, the car starts beeping at us. The same thing should happen when our kids are unbuckled – so they can be as safe as we are in the event of an accident.”
But that’s not all. Driver’s Little Helper alerts parents if the vehicle temperature is too hot or too cold for a child, and even more critical, sends a phone alert if a child is left in the seat for one to five minutes after the car stops moving. If the parent doesn’t respond to the alert, a message is sent to another designated contact through the app informing them the child has been forgotten.
Those precious seconds could mean the difference between life and death. Steffens pointed out that accidentally leaving a child just 15 minutes in a car in extreme temperatures can be fatal.
The need for a system like Driver’s Little Helper on a national level is significant. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2012, children who were unrestrained accounted for 170,000 car injuries – 1,100 of them fatal. Furthermore, an additional 37 children die from heatstroke annually after being left in a car.
Said Steffens, “We wear bracelets and utilize apps that monitor the number of steps we take each day, how many calories we are ingesting, and how many hours of sleep we’re getting. Driver’s Little Helper is an app that will help ensure the safety of our children in the backseat.”
Driver’s Little Helper retails for $79.99 and can be used on any car seat. The package even includes stickers and a storybook, Dino Ryder, for the child. Parents can download the app for either iPhone and Android. To learn more, visit www.DriversLittleHelper.com.
Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL