You’re two minutes from the shops and after a long fight with the sandman, your baby finally falls asleep in the car. They’re so exhausted, you don’t have the heart to wake them. And you just need to duck into the bakery 10 metres away really quickly to get a loaf of bread. Do you: a) leave them sleeping peacefully for a couple of minutes; or b) risk waking them with a delicate transfer?
As a mum who had two sleep-resistant babies, I can absolutely understand the temptation to leave-and-dash. But child safety advocates are pushing hard to make sure taking kids out of the car is the only option parents ever choose.
Kidsafe Victoria has launched a campaign to make it compulsory for “do not leave children in cars” signs to be placed at the entrance to all shopping centre and supermarket carparks – and hopes they will extend to places such as childcare centres, kindergartens and even petrol stations.
It comes after Ambulance Victoria rescued 1165 unattended children from locked cars in the 12 months to August 31 last year. Alarmingly, and despite all the warnings, the summer months were the busiest period with an average of four call-outs a day. Almost half of calls were made between 11am and 3pm, the hottest time of the day. But it happens in cooler months too – last year we reported that state motoring bodies rescued at least 450 kids from cars in just one autumn month.
Kidsafe Victoria president Erica Edmands says the number of children being left unattended in cars is increasing, despite a decade-long campaign. She says signage at car park entrances is a vital key to raising awareness among parents, grandparents and carers. “A $70 sign that is seen by thousands of people every day just a couple of minutes before they park the car is a critical reminder that could save lives,” she says.
NSW Ambulance says the temperature inside a car can soar to more than 50C in just a few minutes, which can lead to unconsciousness, shock, organ failure and even death. “Even in milder temperatures, children and babies can get sick very quickly,” it says. “No matter how quick you think you are going to be, never leave a child unattended in a car. Always take your child with you. The effort it takes to bring the child with you is nothing in comparison to the trauma that could be caused from being left in an overheated vehicle.”
Ms Edmands says good planning is the key to avoiding situations where you may face this dilemma. “If you’re going to get petrol or to the supermarket just to get one or two things, don’t have the kids with you if at all possible,” she says. She says many people wrongly believe that because they’ve had the airconditioning on, the car will stay cool – in fact, the first few minutes are when the car’s interior heats up the most. “You make split-second decisions sometimes but the risks are a lot greater than most people realise,” she says.
She says rearward facing infant car seats have sometimes resulted in parents or carers forgetting about children in the car, because they can’t see or hear them. “If you do take the kids with you, put the handbag in the backseat with them so you have to go there when you get out of the car,” she says.
Kidsafe wants all shopping centres and supermarkets, as well as cafe strips, parks, gardens, entertainment venues, petrol stations, businesses, schools, kindergartens and early childhood centres, to erect signs in the next year. Ms Edmands says it will give parents a visual reminder, whether or not they intended to leave the child in the car. To order a sign for your business or organisation, fill out the form on the organisation’s website. You can also print this handy information sheet about kids in hot cars to share with family and friends.