Nissan, for no real reason I can discern, has called their latest tech gizmo the “Rear Door Alert” when what it really is – or what it should be called – is “The Rear Seat Checker.” Beyond that confusing misnomer, what Nissan is attempting to do here, and always with the best of intentions (you know what they say about good intentions), is to help you remember the stuff in your back seat after you’ve parked.
You know, stuff like your children.
The funny thing is, Nissan does not explicitly say the Rear Door Alert (RDA) is there to help keep your kids alive on a sweltering summer day. No, they only, sort of, imply it: “With summer heat on the rise, potential issues posed by interior car temperatures are even more real, but Nissan hopes its new Rear Door Alert may help reduce concerns.”
I have an informed guess as to why Nissan doesn’t come right out and say, “hey, are you a forgetful and harried parent? Worried about baking your kid (or pets) like a muffin while you’re at Twin Pines Mall shopping for lip gloss? Worry no more, thanks to Nissan’s new Rear Door Alert!” They can’t say that because I bet the legal team warned them along the lines of, “if you say we can keep kids safe and something still ends up happening, we’re going to get litigated back to the stone age.”
Nissan makes things clearer with this little tid-bit: “Elsa Foley, an industrial engineer and mother of two young children, and Marlene Mendoza, a mechanical engineer and mother of three, decided to work on an 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,” Foley said. “The worst thing was the car smelled for days, but it made me ask myself, ‘what if that had been something else back there?’”
Desiccated lasagna aside, it does sound like a helpful bit of tech, but the real flaw, if anything, is the execution.
The Rear Door Alert works in a clever but rather overly complex way. The RDA monitors the rear door switches to detect whether they have been opened or closed just before and after a trip. If the RDA system senses that a rear door was opened and closed prior to a trip, but then was not re-opened after the trip, (i.e. the vehicle was put in park and the ignition cycled off) the RDA system responds by displaying notifications on the instrument panel. If that’s not enough to get your attention, things escalate to “subtle but distinctive chirps of the horn.”
And this is where the RDA lurches into real Rube Goldberg/Larry Lightbulb territory: “Because there are so many scenarios in which a driver might open a rear door – everything from throwing in a gym bag to cleaning the car – the RDA system is easily configurable and can be turned off temporarily or permanently through prompts in the cluster display,” according to Nissan. In other words, this thing will keep nagging and badgering you until you either see to the problem, or jump through a bunch of techno-hoops and “reconfigure” your car. Gee, thanks.
Rear Door Alert is part of the ever-growing, ever-expanding list of “for your own good/you’re too stupid to do it yourself” safety contraptions found on most new cars these days. Nissan points out that most/all of these gadgets will be available on most of their more popular models except for those with manual transmissions and all NISMO versions. Gee, I wonder why that is? Maybe it’s because whoever goes out and buys your King Kong-inspired, Porsche-slaying GT-R is a gearhead capable of looking in the back seat.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.