Hot car danger – why children are vulnerable

Children in a hot car

Children who are in a hot car can be in a very dangerous situation. Younger children are more sensitive to heat compared to older children and adults as their body temperature rises up to 5 times faster than an older child’s. The risk of dehydration and even heatstroke increases if they’re in a hot car for a long time. If untreated, heatstroke can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.

The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed which increases the risk of serious complications or death. Fortunately deaths are very rare in Victoria.

On a hot day the temperature inside a car can be more than 30 degrees hotter than outside, and the situation can become extremely dangerous really quickly.

Check Keys Check Kids tips

Check Keys Check Kids tips - animation

The video shows the temperature inside a car being tested on a 30 degree day. The temperature rose to just over 70 degrees in a matter of minutes. A mother also explains how a lapse in concentration led to her locking her keys in the car while her child was still inside.

Children rescued from locked cars by RACV

In the last 3 years, there have been 4,374 babies and children rescued by RACV from locked cars (1,489 in 2013, 1,467 in 2014, 1,418 in 2015). That’s an average of 4 children a day rescued from a locked car.

To get a better understanding of why children were being locked into cars, we spoke to RACV patrols who attend the incidents to find out more.

The patrols described incidents where parents were distracted on the phone and forgot where their keys were, the car automatically locking or the keys being given to kids to play with before they locked the car. We were told that children were locked into cars often and most of the cases they attended were accidental.

This scenario was highlighted by a Pakenham Mum who realised her mistake the moment she shut the door on her car. Fortunately her daughter slept through the whole ordeal but it did highlight that accidentally locking your keys in the car could happen to anyone, anytime and anywhere.

Check Keys Check Kids to avoid locking your keys in a hot car

The fact that most incidents RACV attended were accidental led RACV to develop the Check Keys Check Kids campaign. Check Keys Check Kids aims to address cases of children being accidentally locked in a hot car by providing parents with practical tips to help avoid accidentally locking their keys in the car.

The video below shows tips to help avoid locking your children in the car, including to:

  • wind windows down before children get in the car
  • never give your keys to children to play with
  • avoid distractions when loading the car
  • have an easy way to hold on to your keys

Free lanyards to avoid an accidental lockout are available from RACV shops.

Written by Elvira Lazar, Research and Policy Officer
April 27, 2016