What to do if you see a child locked in a hot car

The fatal danger of leaving kids in hot cars

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 NRMA roadside assistance. 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.

Never leave children alone in a car

  • 75% of the temperature increase occurs within five minutes of closing the car
  • Darker-coloured cars can reach slightly higher temperatures than lighter-coloured cars
  • Large cars can heat up just as fast as small cars
  • The colour of interior trim has little effect on the speed that the temperature can increase inside a car
  • Having the windows down 5cm causes only a slight decrease in temperature with an outside temperature of around 30°C

What are the risks?

  • The temperature and humidity inside the car begin to increase while the airflow decreases
  • As the temperature increases inside the car, the child can begin to develop heat stress and start to dehydrate
  • Young children are more sensitive to heat than older children and adults. This can put them at greater risk of heat stroke and other health risks
  • If the child becomes distressed and tries to get out of their restraint, they could be at risk of strangulation on the harness.

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.

Safe Practices

  • If you have to leave the car, even to run a quick errand, take the children with you
  • Do not use the car as a substitute 'baby-sitter'.

Safety when travelling in hot weather

  • Do not leave your children in the car for any period of time without adult supervision
  • Provide plenty of cool water or fluids regularly during your journey
  • Dress children to promote airflow around their bodies, ie, lightweight fabric and light colours
  • When planning long journeys, especially with small children, consider travelling in the cooler hours of the day
  • Plan to stop every two hours so all passengers, including the baby, have an opportunity to move freely
  • In summer when children are wearing lightweight clothing, restraints and harnesses could need to be tightened
  • For rearward-facing restraints, it is not recommended that you use a hood to protect the baby from the sun. A hood can reduce airflow around a baby's head that can lead to the baby over-heating. A visor or sunshade is a safer alternative

On every trip, short or long, take the time to check your children's safety by re-checking the fit of their harnesses.

Would you be confident to do the correct thing when faced with seeing a child locked in a hot car? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook page.