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Under the pump: kids, servos and what to do

By Wade O’Leary

The return of hot weather has reignited a fiery debate: what do you do if you have children with you when you pull into a service station?

There are two camps – those who say leaving behind a child for only a couple of minutes to pay for petrol is acceptable and those who say you must take your child if you are moving away from the vehicle for any length of time.

NSW law doesn’t offer a definitive answer: under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) ACT 1998 - Section 231 legislation, it is only an offence to leave a child or young person in a car if it is judged likely the minor would be left emotionally distressed or physically impaired.

While it is ultimately a question of perception, it could be the difference between leaving a child in a shaded area while immediately paying an attendant compared to leaving the baby in an unshaded area while queueing up to pay.

Interestingly, far more NRMA Members would be prepared to leave their children in the car under this scenario than in any other situation.

While 85 per cent of respondents to our 2015 survey on keys locked in cars said they have never left a child alone in a car, 13 per cent said they have done so to pay for petrol compared to only 2 per cent for general purchases and picking up or dropping off other kids.

Nearly one-third of respondents also said they would regard paying for petrol as being an acceptable excuse for leaving a child alone in a car, again well ahead of other categories.

Respondents to our Facebook post on leaving children in hot cars were split on the issue, with one Member who reported berating a man for doing so being challenged by a young mum about how difficult the situation is for parents.

“Maybe you could have offered to help ... try filling up while holding a three-year-old’s hand,” Michelle O said.

“We need to bring back service station attendants, (it’s) very hard for young mums with very young children to fill up.”

When another mum suggested paying at the pump with credit or debit cards, Michelle revealed she lives in rural NSW and none of her local stations have this facility.

Our advice to Michelle would be to leave her children secured in the car during the refueling process as a child should not be allowed near a hose, nozzle or tank opening during the refuelling process as depicted in the article photo.

But consideration of the fire risks inherent in a service station – and the difficultly of rescuing a restrained child from a burning vehicle – as well as the potentially severe health consequences of exposing children to short periods of high solar heat makes a powerful case for not leaving a child in the car for an extended period or without supervision.

Ultimately, if you find yourself having to refuel your car with your children in tow (having exhausted all options for doing so without them) then you will have to plan the best way to organise their orderly exit and movement when you have to pay.

We also recommend using search tools like this one provided by Caltex to locate stations near you that have ‘pay at the pump’ facilities or to organise your routine so that you are able to refuel without having to also supervise children. You can also use the my nrma app to see which stations have the cheapest fuel on your route.

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