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Nissan North America's press release tip-toes around the issue but a spate of cases in the US involving child deaths in unattended cars in summer might just have prompted a claimed first 'Rear Door Alert' technology though the company claims it was all down to a tray of pasta.

The automaker said the idea was proposed by a pair of Nissan engineers, who are also mothers.

It combines door sequence logic, centre instrument panel message display and multiple horn honks to help remind drivers to check the rear seat after the vehicle is parked.

The system can, of course, help remind drivers of anything that may be forgotten in the rear seat and will be standard on the three row 2018 Pathfinder SUV when it goes on sale in the US next month.

The Nissan engineers, Elsa Foley, an industrial engineer and mother of two young children, and Marlene Mendoza, a mechanical engineer and mother of three, claim a forgotten pan of lasagna, rather than horrific news reports, prompted them to work on the idea to help remind drivers to check their back seats before walking away.

"We pushed each other along and knew we were on the right track one morning when Marlene discovered she had left a pan of lasagna in the back seat of her car one night after coming home after a long day at the office," said Foley. "The worst thing was the car smelled for days, but it made me ask myself, 'what if that had been something else back there?'"

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The project subsequently moved into full development at the Nissan Technical Center North America (NTCNA) in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Availability on other models will follow.

The system uses a series of distinctive honks as the driver is walking away from the vehicle. The audio alerts distinguish the automaker's system from others already on offer.

"The Rear Door Alert uses a similar honking cue that has been proven successful with Easy Fill Tire Alert [a 2012 innovation using the tyre pressure warning system to alert a driver to a low tyre; on some models it displays the current pressure and wheel(s) that require attention on the dashboard display]," added Foley. "By drawing your attention back to the vehicle, once you've walked away, you are more likely to recheck the back seat than with a visual alert alone."

How it works

RDA monitors the rear door switches to detect their open/closed status prior to and after a trip. If the system detects that a rear door was opened/closed prior to a trip, but then was not re-opened again after the trip was completed, given the vehicle was put in park and the ignition cycled off, the system responds with a series of notifications, starting with a display in the instrument panel and progressing to subtle but distinctive chirps of the horn.

Because there are so many scenarios in which a driver might open a rear door, RDA is configurable and can be turned off temporarily or permanently through prompts in the cluster display.

"The idea is if you open a rear door, whether to put a child or a package in the rear seat, the vehicle will help alert you when you get to your destination that you may want to check the rear seat," said Mendoza. "We've built in enough time that you don't have to rush, but if you don't open the rear door again when you get out of the vehicle, we want you to think for a moment about what you may have put in the back seat."