Three kids a day rescued from locked cars

Moving Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 09 December 2019

Don’t accidentally lock your child in the car. Check Keys, Check Kids to avoid this potentially life-threatening mistake.

New RACV statistics reveal its Emergency Roadside Assistance patrols rescue an average of three kids a day from locked cars.

Since the start of 2019, RACV patrol crews have responded to more than 887 calls to help free young children trapped in locked cars, as well as hundreds of pets.

The statistics have been released to launch the RACV’s Check Keys – Check Kids campaign which aims to prevent parents and carers from accidentally locking children and pets in hot cars.

RACV general manager public policy Bryce Prosser says the temperature inside cars can rise to fatal levels, even on mild days. 

RACV patrols rescue an average of three kids a day from locked cars.

He says that especially around this busy season, it’s easy to become distracted and forget where your car keys are, increasing the danger of accidentally locking children or animals in the car.

“A momentary lapse in concentration combined with sophisticated vehicle locking technology and soaring summer temperatures is a recipe for disaster,” Bryce says.

“Research shows younger children are more sensitive to heat than older children and adults as their body temperatures rise five times faster.” He says this puts them at a high risk of dehydration and heatstroke when locked in hot cars.

Last summer, Metropolitan Fire Brigade crews attended incidents of children trapped in hot cars at a rate of about one a day. 

“Each summer firefighters and emergency first responders see a spike in the number of incidents involving children or animals being left in hot cars,” says the brigade’s acting deputy chief officer Adam Dalrymple.

“MFB crews are well equipped and specially trained to unlock doors with a specialist kit but firefighters will break windows if required,” he says.

“The temperature inside a car can double within minutes and can quickly cause heatstroke, dehydration and even death. 

“Leaving a child in an unattended car is illegal, it’s dangerous, and seriously irresponsible as the days get hotter.”  

Justin Dunlop, Ambulance Victoria’s acting director of emergency management, says many of the incidents are preventable. “Either people forget the child is in the car or they accidentally lock the keys in the car with the children,” he says.

He says it doesn’t have to be a scorching day for temperatures to soar inside a locked car within minutes – making it dangerous to leave a child, pet or elderly person in a car and run into a shop even for a few minutes, he says. 

“At 29 degrees the temperature inside a locked car reaches 44 degrees in 10 minutes and a body temperature of 40 degrees is critical,” he says. “After 20 minutes, the heat inside rises to 60 degrees and no one can survive.”

Ambulance Victoria attended 1587 incidents involving people locked in cars in the year to August 2018, and 95 per cent of those trapped were aged under 13.

RACV Patrol man getting a car door open with a child locked inside
RACV Patrol man getting a car door open with a child locked inside

RACV patrols attempt to unlock doors using expertise and tools but depending on the temperature and the make of the vehicle, they may have to break a window. 

Melbourne mum Mara Goncalves knows the relief of seeing the yellow RACV roadside service van when she needed it most.

Her daughter, Scarlett, was about one when she was accidentally locked inside the family car four years ago. 

“It can happen to anyone, it only takes a split second for it to happen,” Mara says. 

It was a new car and Mara says she pressed a button on the door believing it unlocked all the doors, only realising it instead locked all the doors when she closed her own door. 

She called the RACV and patrolman Steven Kendall came to the rescue while the RACV call centre texted messages of his estimated arrival time to keep her calm. Steven recalls tears of joy when he got Scarlett out.  

Steven, who has rescued hundreds of children from cars in his 30-year career, says it’s important that parents remain calm if they accidentally lock a child in a car. 

“Knowing the dangers that vehicle lock-ins pose to young children, RACV prioritises these call-outs as urgent and we allocate the job to the closest RACV crew,” Steven says. 

“Once on scene we attempt to unlock the door using our expertise and tools but depending on the temperature outside and the make of the vehicle, we may end up breaking a window to get the child out.” 

Four tips to avoid accidentally locking your child or pet in the car

  1. Wind the window down before putting your child or pet in the car in case it locks automatically.
  2. Avoid distractions when loading and unloading the car.
  3. Never let your child play with the keys and risk them accidentally locking the car.
  4. Find an easy way to hold on to your keys, such as a lanyard or clip.