Leaving children in hot cars

By: Lisa Harper

While many of us would never dream of leaving our children in the car for any longer than a quick nip to pay for petrol, the reality is that it does happen, whether intended or not. But did not you know that leaving children, especially toddlers and babies in the car on hot days is actually pretty dangerous? 

Tragically, in warmer countries, like Australia, numerous child deaths each year are attributed to children overheating in hot cars. 

With the UK set to warm up, we thought it was time to address some of the dangers of leaving your child in a hot car.

Why are hot cars so dangerous for children?

The temperature inside a car can rise rapidly on warm days, typically around 10-15°C every fifteen minutes; even leaving a window open does little to reduce the rate of this temperature rise. 

Young children, particularly babies and toddlers, can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults. As such, their body temperature can rise up to three to five times faster than an adult. This means they are less able to cope in hot conditions and in some conditions hyperthermia can occur in as little as two minutes and cause fatality within two hours.

What happens to children left in hot cars?

Even in the shade or in cloudy conditions when the outside temperature is 22°C, the internal temperature of a car can rise to as much as 47°C.

But what effect does this kind of temperature have on children:

Within 45 minutes - can lead to hyperthermia, sweating thirst and discomfort.

Within 70 minutes - can lead to severe sweating, increase in heart rate and children who suffer from epilepsy can become more susceptible to convulsions

By 105 minutes – can lead to fainting, dehydration, weakness, vomiting and breathlessness

We appreciate you may be thinking how on earth could you not know where your child is for this amount of time, but it is easily done. In the majority of cases, parents are unaware the child was in the car.

How do children end up being left in cars?

There are a couple of common reasons children are left in cars. 

Older children often enjoy playing in cars, seeing a parked up car as the ideal hide-and-seek spot. Unfortunately, this can lead to them getting accidentally locked in. To prevent this situation, you should avoid letting children play in cars on a hot day and you should keep your keys out of reach, so children can’t sneak them away without you noticing.

While the most common cause of babies and toddlers being left in a hot car is a parent forgetting them. Babies and toddlers often fall asleep on journeys, and if they have been quiet for a while, it can be easy to forget about them, especially if you are new to parenthood or are sleep-deprived. 

A good way to avoid this is to give yourself a visual clue. For example, you could remove one or both of your child’s shoes and place them in the front passenger seat. You are likely to notice these when you leave the car, and they will act as a trigger to remember your child. 

4 Quick-tips for travelling with children in hot weather

It’s not just leaving children in hot cars, heading on a long car journey in hot conditions can be uncomfortable for children. If you’re heading on a long road trip this summer, be sure to make sure you consider your children, with our quick-tips:

1.    Carry plenty of fluids and make sure they are easily accessible on your journey 

2.    Dress your children in lightweight, comfortable and loose-fitting clothing 

3.    Make regular stops to give your little ones the chance to stretch their legs and cool down

4.    When returning to a hot car, don’t forget to check the temperature of car seat straps, buckles and seatbelts before strapping your little one in

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