Tricia Morrow, 44
Safety engineering strategy manager, General Motors
Big break: Developing GM’s Rear Seat Reminder and teen Buckle to Drive technologies
When Tricia Morrow sat in the stands of IndyCar races as a child, she was amazed that drivers would walk away from major crashes mostly unscathed.
As she grew up, she became more interested in the biomechanics of crashes and how people survived their injuries.
“It was such a great intersection of being able to help people using math and science really to solve a lot of different problems. As my career advanced and my life advanced — having children — that passion even grew more,” she said.
Today, Morrow is safety engineering strategy manager at General Motors. She counts developing GM’s Rear Seat Reminder and teen Buckle to Drive technologies among her proudest accomplishments, and next, she aims to help shape autonomous vehicle safety.
When Morrow worked in GM’s innovation area, she and her team realized that not all innovation needs to be huge, she said. “There are really simple, thoughtful things that we can do that can make an enormous impact on people’s lives.”
Rear Seat Reminder, which launched on the 2017 GMC Acadia, is an example. Technology that can prevent child hot-car deaths became even more important to Morrow when she had her first child, in 2004.
“This can happen to high-functioning, well-intentioned human beings. And at General Motors, we were searching for technology to try and prevent these hot-car deaths and protect kids in vehicles,” she said.
The technology doesn’t detect people or pets in the back seat. Instead, it registers that the rear door was opened within 10 minutes before the car started or sometime after the car was already running.
“If you opened the rear door, odds are you put something in,” she said. It could be a bag of groceries or a briefcase, but it could also be a child, she said.
Most automakers have agreed to place rear-seat reminder systems in new vehicles sold in the U.S. by the 2025 model year.
A few years later, Morrow helped launch Buckle to Drive technology with GM’s Teen Driver software. It prevents teen drivers from shifting out of park until they buckle their seat belts. The feature is available on the 2020 Chevrolet Malibu, Traverse and Colorado and the GMC Canyon. GM will continue to roll out the feature in new vehicles.
Of the 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, nearly half were not wearing seat belts, according to NHTSA. The proportion was even higher for teens.
“It’s still the primary restraint. Even with all the other technology in the vehicle, seat belts remain paramount,” Morrow said. “We saw this really great opportunity to put in this strong seat belt reminder.”
As the industry develops autonomous vehicle technology, Morrow sees an opportunity to rethink safety, with different seating configurations, crash modes and no driver.
“We’ve been working really hard to try and figure out what restraint technology looks like in an autonomous vehicle,” she said. “It’s really been part of our strategy to say, ‘What do we need to do to ensure the safety of our customers in that vehicle?’?”
Morrow said she and her team have made progress and developed safety ideas that she can’t yet share.
“With our new global economy and our new mobility space, I just really want to be part of bringing great technologies to our customers and really helping them be safe on the road,” she said. “Any path that can help me do that, I’m all-in.”
— Hannah Lutz