What should you do if you see a child locked in a hot car?

What should you do if you see a child locked in a hot car?

If you wait, it can be too late.

Now’s a good time to discuss this critical dilemma.

On a typical Australian summer day, the temperature inside a parked car can be more than 30°C hotter than outside the car. That means that on a 30°C day, the temperature inside the car can reach over 60°C!

A child left in a parked car under those conditions for even a few minutes can very quickly become distressed, dehydrated and can die from organ failure. If you see anything, you need to act quickly. If you wait, it can be too late.

You must make a judgment call as to whether it is a life and death situation and you would need to break a window yourself and call an ambulance, or whether you should call 000 and ask for police, who will get there as urgently as they can (and will break the window themselves) and they will call an ambulance.

If the child is clearly distressed, do not wait for help. Instead, break a window and remove the child from the vehicle until help arrives. If you break a window, and the child is simply asleep and it turns out not to be an emergency, it is possible that you could be required to pay for the window.

In less urgent circumstances, call the NRMA. You do not need to be a Member in this situation. Because of the grave danger involved, the NRMA drops everything to respond immediately to calls where a child is locked in a car.

Criminal offence

Section 231 of The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act states that it is illegal to leave a child unattended an unsupervised in a motor vehicle for such time as the child or young person becomes or is like to become emotionally distressed or their health becomes or is likely to become permanently or temporarily impaired.

Would you be confident to do the correct thing when faced with seeing a child locked in a hot car? 

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89 thoughts on “What should you do if you see a child locked in a hot car?

  1. The welfare of the Child must always be the paramount concern!
    Same thing with animals.
    I feel this could be a great bumper sticker campaign…

    • The Priority is Child and Animal Welfare! #ActFirstActFastAskQuestionsLast
      If you are hot, inside the car will be hotter.
      Break a window furthest away from the child or pet.
      Dial 000 and ask for Ambo and Cops.
      If necessary give First Aid to the child, water in the case of a dog.
      Leave the Questions to the Cops that’s what they train for.
      As for replacing the broken window, that’s down to the bloody driver mate…
      No judge on Earth would make you pay for it…

      • Instead call the fire service. They have quicker response times plus the tools to get into a car. As for the NRMA they would be last on the list.

        • Thanks for your comment Thomas. Because of the grave danger involved, the NRMA drops everything to respond immediately to calls where a child is locked in a car and you don’t need to be a Member in this situation. Best wishes, Paul- NRMA Community Manager

    • Definitely, and how do you know if the child is unconcious or just asleep, it shouldn’t be there alone anyway. I would grab someone nearby as a witness and break a window to unlock the car and remove the child or dog for that matter and I would refuse to pay for the broken window as the owner should never have left the child in that position in the first place.

  2. I don’t think you’ve thought this through properly… if you came across a child locked in a car, how long has the child been in there? Unless you saw the adult leave, you have no possible way of knowing. If the child is crying (which may only last a minute or two before passing out from heat exposure), and you didn’t see someone walk away, break the window. If the child isn’t upset, then they are yet to cry, or have already cried and passed out, break the window.
    The normal principle of first aid still count here, if someone is unconscious, you have the right to assume they would want you to help. It’s no different here.
    I’ve nearly broken a window because a dog was left in a locked car, and as I was about to someone stopped me and said “what are you doing, I was only gone a few minutes”, to which I responded, “how could anyone know? And what made think that is appropriate in the first place?”
    You state it is a criminal offense to lock a child in a car, however it is not so clear in the paragraph you quote. As soon as the car is locked on a hot day, and the parent doesn’t respond to a shout, then the law should be changed to be on your side.

    • I don’t care how long the child has been in the car for. No child should be left in a car unattended for any reason, so what if you wake it picking it up, I’d rather a screaming child than a dead one, or one who was carjacked or stolen.

      • Well there are plenty of situations where leaving the baby in the car for a minute or two is BY FAR the safest option regardless of what the law says.
        People need to exercise common sense when deciding which is the greater risk for their children and passers by need to exercise common sense when determining if a child is actually at risk.
        We don’t want to end up like the US where parents lose custody of their children for letting them go to the park unsupervised or leaving them in a car while they pay for petrol.
        Of course it’s important to pay attention to a baby in a car if you think it’s at risk of physical harm, but there’s no need to get hysterical about a baby who is peacefully sleeping and who’s mother will be back in just a minute. There are generations of us to prove that it’s not a problem most of the time.

        • I agree Fiona. Take a mother of 8 children for example. You really expect her to remove all children, while she takes maybe 2 minutes to pay for the petrol? I believe common sense is needed here.
          Of course, if it’s a boiling hot day and the car isn’t parked in the shade… that’s a different story…

    • I couldn’t agree more with you in this instance. If you see a child, elderly or animal in a car, you must act responsibly. Shout for the owner then break the window; no matter whether it is hot or cold.

      Why the Goiod Samaritan, should pay for the broken window, When the driver is at fault?? At times action should be taken immediately, there is no time for the police or NRMA to arrive

  3. In the same way that most cars now show the outside temperature from inside a car, perhaps the internal temperature could be shown somewhere on the outside of the car, maybe above the rear door, passenger side, since that is where most child seats are fitted. The sensor could be in the middle of the roof on the inside. That way nobody need break a window unnecessarily, as the inside temperature would be clearly visible to anyone from outside the car.

    • I dont think putting a system in place so that people can check the temerature of the inside of the car is even relevant. Children should not be left locked in a car and if parents are stupid enough to do it, then passers by should not be penalised for breaking the window and calling 000

    • As a patrolman, I’d prefer a button on the outside of the car that unlocks it, as a temperature gauge can not tell you anything about a child locked in a car, ie: children under 5 and dogs, can NOT regulate their own body temperature as an adult human does.

      People should also not assume this is done with any intent, I’d need 2 pages to list the cars that automatically lock themselves if left unattended. The dumb thing is, in most cases, the dealership can turn this function off. From my point of view, the function should be controlled by the ambient temperature, or illegal in Australia.

  4. YES , I WOULD BREAK THE WINDOW IF THE CHILD LOOKED DISTRESSED OR EVEN IF THEY DID NOT IF I HAD OBSERVED THE CHILD FOR LONGER THAN 5 MINUTES ON A VERY HOT DAY.. I LOCKED MY LITTLE DOG IN MY CAR ONCE AND IT WAS SO FRIGHTENING. AT LEAST SHE WAS WET FROM A SWIM BUT A KIND MAN DROVE TO THE LOCAL NRMA AND THEY ARRIVED VERY QUICKLY. I WAS READY TO BREAK THE WINDOW FOR MY DOG SO, WOULD CERTAINLY DO, IT FOR A CHILD. IT DISTRESSES ME NOW TO SEE DOGS LEFT IN CARS AND HAVE RANG THE POLICE ON A NUMBER OF OCCASSIONS RE THIS. AT LEAST I LIVE IN A TOWN WHERE HELP IS QUICK TO RESPOND.

  5. Absolutely, as a first aid trainer, I often advise people to break the window in this circumstance, request a nearby person to call 000, remove the child, check response, airway & breathing then if breathing place in recovery position, if not start CPR.

    • Excellent advise. Don’t hesitate just do ! It’s worth the chance of paying for a window……leaving a child in a vehicle unattended is never ok.

    • 1st – I would take a picture of number plate then 2nd – the whole car with child in picture for evidence & to cover myself. own protectioncall the ambulance 4th – I would call the Police & Ambulance while accessing the situation & where to safely break the glass so I do not shower the child in glass which could hurt them even more. This sounds like a long time but it could be done with 1 – 2 minutes.

      • And while your preparing to cover your ASS, the child has already gone into cardiac arrest & into a state of non recovery, I would much rather save a child than my own ASS!!!!

  6. “If you break a window, and the child is simply asleep and it turns out not to be an emergency, it is possible that you could be required to pay for the window”.
    Any child left alone in a locked car, creates an emergency situation. Far better to have a smashed window and a saved child than an intact car and a dead child. No way should a rescuer be even asked to pay for the smashed window.

    • I’m positive you wouldn’t be required. If you are asked to then tell them you’ll see them in court. No court would make you pay. I doubt a parent would have the guts to go to court over it. They’d cop a hiding for endangering the child and creating that situation in the first place.

  7. How can you tell if the child is asleep or passed out?
    Yes I would break the window and get the child out, then phone the police for them to deal with the inconsiderate person who left the child in the car in the first place.
    I’d hate to have a death of a child on my conscience.

  8. If I could shade the car I would and then try to locate the responsible person. I believe that windscreens are much cheaper than windows so I would suggest that it be smashed out first!. I would like to be informed on that statement. If there was a small quarter window that could also be an alternative!.
    Yours Peter.

    • Windscreens are designed to withstand impacts. Breaking them to gain access to the interior would require fire/rescue type equipment. Much easier to break the door window diagonaly opposite the child. Windows are made of toughened glass which shatters into millions of small pieces.
      The easiest way to break it, is to use something that will concentrate the blow. The small heel of a high heel shoe is excellent, a diamond ring also works. Rotate the ring so it is facing the inside of your hand. Place your hand on the glass and hit it as hard as you can with your other hand. Guys, if can’t find a high heel shoe, take your watch off and dangle it aganst the glass by the strap. Hit the watch as hard as you can with your other hand.
      I selected these examples from what either my wife or I are wearing at THIS moment.
      Of course, if there is any object around that could be used (brick, steel bar, etc) that would be better than having yourself so close to breaking glass.

    • Quarter panel windows are the most expensive to replace. Just fyi not that anyone shouldn’t smash any window they can money shouldn’t even be a factor in this situation :)

  9. I would definitely break the window if I suspected that a child was in danger. I would rather pay for a new window than live with myself if I had done nothing to save a child.

  10. Excellent advise……don’t hesitate…just break the window, it’s worth the cost. No child should ever be left in a vehicle unattended.

  11. Is it really true that you can be made to pay the cost of replacing a window if the child is merely asleep. If it is an offence to leave a child in a locked car why would the rescuer have to pay for the damage? You do not know until after you have broken the window whether the child is unwell. I hope that nobody would be deterred from intervening under these circumstances.

  12. I would right away, I think as a mother I just wouldn’t think twice..
    No child should be in that kind of state whatever the story is..
    See a child without an adult ‘ I say act quickly.

  13. I made a judgment call just the other day. It was a very hot day and a child was in a car with windows down…I hear you say but the windows were down, well looking at the child, who would have been no older than 3 or 4, he was calling out and looks very hot and sweaty. I went to a nearby restaurant attached to the shopping centre and they went to report it and the next minute you know…..I see two guys with medical kits come runnig out to attend, fantastic response! I’m glad I said something, I didn’t feel write driving away. I am a mum of a 4 yr old and 2 yr old twins I would never walk away from that type of situation.

  14. I have witnessed babies and toddlers left in vehicles on several occasions now. Once, I was representing my child’s school P&F with a team from RTA, Local Council and Police to recommend siting of safety crossings when a woman actually pulled up and parked across the school driveway access, left her vehicle with a baby inside, and went to the office situated at the furthest corner of the school. Our group looked on in disbelief and the policeman followed her into the school office. No action was taken as far as I could see. On other occasions I have waited and watched over the children as their mothers were nowhere to be seen. On their return I have only ever been spoken to aggressively. It has been common to hear “Oh I was only just in there a minute ” (usually 5-15 minutes) and ” I could see my child all the time ” (Despite me not being able to spot her at all).
    If I were a mother who could see a great hulking bearded oaf like me lurking around her car and precious child, I think I’d at least make my presence more obvious.
    It seems to me the legislation is vague in terms of assessing risk to these children. I would advise anyone who encounters such a situation to contact 000 first and act on their directives. My impression is that any ” parent ” who is willing to risk their children in this way, is also capable of trying to make you look the baddie and might even see an opportunity to gain financially. If you are acting on Emergency Services advice you are not as likely to be at blame if things don’t go smoothly. Of course though, any decent person would not hesitate to help a child if the situation clearly demanded it. However, it would be nice to know that the system is behind us at these times.

  15. Regardless of if the child is in distress, break the window and rescue the child. The law states that it is an offense to leave a child in a car unattended. I doubt any court in Australia would rule that you should have to pay for damages to a vehicle when an irresponsible parent or guardian has left a child in a car on their own.

    • The law states “it is illegal to leave a child unattended an unsupervised in a motor vehicle for such time as the child or young person becomes or is like to become emotionally distressed or their health becomes or is likely to become permanently or temporarily impaired.”

      *For such time.* – That varies depending on conditions (obviously never okay to leave a child in an unshaded car on a hot day for any length of time) and allows for emergency situations when it may be safer to leave the child in the car.

  16. I understand the urgency of this call to action. So what is the surest and safest way to break a car window, given there is a young person inside the car? If you break the window closest to the child, will it be covered in shattered glass? Is it better to break a more distant window so as not to shock or hurt the child?

  17. May we assume that these instructions apply to animals being left in unventilated cars as well and that the same penalties apply to the guilty parties?

  18. …. If you break a window, and the child is simply asleep and it turns out not to be an emergency, it is possible that you could be required to pay for the window. Help someone and get billed for it hmm!!!
    I think it best to ask a person nearby to break the window and remove the child while you call 000 is best.

  19. If I was going to break a window,I would,if possible,be getting someone to witness the child in distress.This could save you a lot of dramas later.Maybe even take a quick video on a phone,or some pics.Doesn’t hurt to cover your own rear.

  20. When working in Washington in 1969 I saw a baby dead from being left in a locked car. The parents were distraught because they had been gone for 15 minutes. That has left a lasting wound on me and I would smash any window in the way.

  21. A big tick to Steven Baker–good idea.
    First, check to see if the vehicle is unlocked before breaking window.If you find that breaking the window is necessary, what is at hand to do so?
    A story comes to mind.There was smoke coming from the back of a neighbors house.
    The alarm was raised and a “Fred Flintstone” type neighbor charged in with an axe, broke through the front door, causing considerable damage,went to the rear of the house where he found another neighbor with a garden hose had doused the fire.”How did you get in” said Fred. The neighbor replied “the back door was open”.

  22. Smash the front passenger window and take the baby out and rearranged the mother or father’s knowledge about leaving a child in the car the first place clueless.

  23. what if the law was no restrained child/baby to be left unattended ( ie not in view of caregiver ) in a car. In this way it is reasonable for any persons not being able to rouse the caregiver with shouts can legally break the window ( distress evident or not ). This would lead car owners to the conclusion they risk a broken window EVERY time they duck into the shops for “a few” minutes and possibly lead to the common practice of taking your child with you as cumbersome as that may be.
    I do recognise a vigilante element that may stem from this approach.
    I also recognise how sad it is we value the broken window above that of the child.

  24. Who cares…. I’d smash it regardless, what fn person in their right mind would do such a horrible thing. I’d wait for the parent to get back and drag the fucker to my car put them in and lock it!! See how long they last the piece of shit!!!

  25. Break the diagonal window regardless of if the baby is asleep or passed out, distressed or not as heat stroke can manifest itself in many ways. And very shortly after, death only manifests in one way, DEAD.
    If someone who left the baby in the car in the first place wants to take me to court to claim the cost of a smashed window, well, you can’t get blood out of a stone so they say.

  26. I wouldnt care what reason the child was left in the car (it is an offence to do so for whatever reason) if the doors are locked brake the darn window. the parent should be grateful the child is then helped…. what price does a parent put on a child in the first place – if they are stupid enough to leave the child there they should be grateful to pay for the window. What would a parent do if they came back to the car and found their child dead and people all standing around looking at their presumed dead child while waiting for the appropriate authorities to arrive in case they have to pay for a broken window????

  27. If you see a child or animal locked in a car, call 000 they will send police immediately the police will also call NRMA to attend. If you are somewhere where a garden hose is available start hosing down the car as this will bring the temperature down inside the vehicle and also gives an upset child some distraction.

  28. The first issue is how did the child get there, if an adult has for a start left a child unattended in a locked care them they have entrapped that human, if no one at the scene takes responsibility then I wouldn’t hesitate to smash a window and openly get the child out get witnesses that would be very important get a witness of the public, people tell them exactly why and what you are doing draw them in to ring police etc. witnesses are the other important thing other than the child’s safety you need to also cover your own back.

  29. How is it that it is a federal offence to leave a child in a locked car, and yet we may be required to pay for a broken window if we attempt to remove the child from the car. This just doesnt make sense.

  30. It’s simple, don’t leave your child unattended in the car for ANY reason.
    I never have with mine and don’t intend to with my grandchildren either !!!

  31. The fact that it is only a illegal to abondon a child in the car if the child becomes distressed or harmed IS a BIG problem. How long is too long? A slight distraction, a few minutes delay, a miscalculation of the effects on the child and its too late. The law needs to be changed so that leaving/ locking a child in the car is illegal. … And breaking a window to retrieve one is not.

  32. No child should be left in a locked car. Period. Im going to break the window as I don’t know how long they’ve been left in the car for. If they are asleep, I’m not paying for the broken window. The parents will be! You should be covered just like first aid.

  33. This is the world’s most f***d up rule getting charged for saving some life. How can some know that if child is sleep or dying even if child is sleeping and you break the window you should not charged. Then people will not help because they will be charged for saving a life. this rule say let the child die.
    The rule should be that you should get reward for breaking the window even the child is just sleeping and the child should be taken off the parents and they should be jailed for at least 12 months For leaving the child in locked car

  34. Pingback: Did you know a dog left in a car can die within as little as 6 minutes? | Official NRMA Blog

  35. Break the window, give the child to the woman screaming the most and leave. If you made a mistake no one will know who you are.

  36. As a serving Paramedic of more than 30 years the information in this post is quite, quite incorrect. When 000 is called Police and Ambulance and the NRMA are all activated at the same time to respond to reports of a child locked in a car.

    If you elect to smash a window prior to the arrival of an emergency service you must take extreme care in doing so to prevent further harm to the child.

    It is essential prior to breaking glass to distract the child away from were you intend to break the glass to ensure that no glass fragments or glass can either hit the child or be inhaled “glass dust”.

    Emergency services will often use tape like “packing tape” in a cross hatch pattern across the glass to prevent the glass from hitting the child prior to smashing it.

    It is quite irresponsible of the NRMA to advise / encourage people to snash glass without advising them of the risks of smashing glass with children inside.

    • Hi there, thanks for this comment. I will consult with our safety experts and look to edit the blog along their recommendations. Best wishes, Dan, NRMA Social

  37. We have argued this in our family and agree with most of the comments here.
    My son and daughter in law, they got 3 kids, 4-6 and 8, thinks its a bit hard, when they pay for petrol and they can see the kids, can get in to trouble. So they take all 3 kids with them or they pay with a card, The last thing is probably the best. Maybe we should have more drive trough services, ring up and order your shopping, then get it delivered to the car.

  38. The petrol station is the one and only place where it is acceptable to lock a child in the car and even then it is only for the amount of time it takes to pay for petrol. Even then, if it’s a hot day and there isn’t adequate shade you should just take them with you. Leaving them in the car while you go to get a few groceries is totally unacceptable.

  39. I remember a few years ago, in the Riverland of SA, a mother parked her car in her friend’s driveway and went into her friend’s. It was a very hot day and her baby was asleep in the car, so rather than rouse the child when she was only going to be a minute, she left the air conditioner on and the engine running. Unfortunately, there was some kind of fault in the car, which caused it to catch fire while idling with the air con on. The mother was only the minute she said she’d be, but by the time she came outside the car was engulfed in flames and the baby burned to death. No child should be left in a car for any reason, under any circumstances. There should be tougher penalties for people who do so and no penalty to anyone that breaks a window to help a child.

  40. Never assume that you have just missed the parent leaving the car with the child in it – act immediately!

    Also, if you are doubtful about the heat of the inside of the car touch your hand to the windows and you will know immediately.

  41. Pingback: Tips for preventing accidental lock ins | The NRMA Blog

  42. As a First Aider I have left my young child in a car while I went to assist at an accident nearby (because you can’t perform CPR while holding a child). I locked the car so that no one could steal my child and / or my child could not open the door and fall out on to the road in the unlikely scenario they were able to get out of their restraint. It concerns me that so many people here are immediately jumping to the break the window response and so few suggest first making an attempt to locate the parent. They could be assisting or resuscitating someone just a few metres away but out of sight, perhaps behind another parked car. I remember once being at an uncovered car park and the owner of a car got upset because someone smashed the window of his car with a rock in order to ‘rescue’ a dog. The elderly car/dog owner was 20 metres away, having got out only to put some rubbish in a bin while waiting to pick someone up. It only takes a few moments to call out and ask if anyone owns the vehicle concerned.

  43. I’d kick the window in furthest away from the child and then get them out. Then I would call the police to have the driver of the car charged and an ambulance if necessary. I wouldn’t be worried about waiting for the owner to come back. They would have some serious problem if they attempted to attack me for damaging a window. I’m 6foot2 110kg and I’d kick the living shit out of the prick for leaving a child in a sauna.

  44. There is another situation everyone should be aware of. I went to the supermarket with my grandchildren, the 12 yr old said he was tired and wanted to stay with the car, I told him it was hot and left the door open. When we got back he had shut the door and fallen asleep, the car wasn’t locked, thank goodness he had the keys. I left them with him so he could lock the door if he left the car. He was okay, hot and sweaty and a bit disoriented but we poured a lot of water into him. I would not have hesitated to break a window, it the car had been locked. He shut the door to be safe! Please make sure your children of any age are safe

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