Better Health Channel

Never leave kids in cars

Small child in a car seat with caption - our valuables should never be left in the car

The 'never leave kids in cars campaign' prompts parents to take their kids with them whenever they get out of the car, just as they do their everyday valuables, to avoid potentially tragic consequences.

Illustration of a thermometer displaying hot temperature

The risk of heatstroke and dehydration is very real

  • A child's body temperature rises 3 to 5 times faster than an adult
  • Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a parked car can be 20 to 30oC hotter than the temperature outside
  • When it’s 30oC outside, a child could be suffering in up to 60oC heat
  • Leaving the windows down has little effect on the inside temperature of the car
  • Large cars heat up as quickly as smaller cars.

Visit Kidsafe VictoriaExternal Link for more information.

Cost to families

In Victoria, it is against the law to leave a child unattended in a car. Penalties include:

  • fines,
  • up to six months' jail.

However the cost to families can be far higher. Children can die in hot cars and the risk is highest in summer.

Fatal distraction

Fatal distraction occurs when parents or carers unknowingly leave their child in a car. It is a condition that impacts short-term memory capacity and can lead to serious injury or, in extreme cases, the death of a child.

Short-term memory is used for temporary information, like reminding ourselves to pick up milk on the way home. When people become tired and stressed, short-term memory failure can cause habitual memory to take over.

For example, an exhausted parent may drive straight to work along their normal route rather than stopping to drop a child off at childcare, inadvertently leaving the child in the car when they arrive.

Fatal distraction can happen to anyone. The consequences can be devastating for parents and carers.

In recent times, there have been several incidents in Australia and around the world where parents or carers, believing a child to be elsewhere and safe, have unknowingly left a child in a car with tragic outcomes.

Illustration of a hand with string tied around one finger as a reminder

Prevent fatal distraction

There are some steps that people can work into their daily routines to help lower the risk of accidentally leaving a child in a hot car:

  • Open the back door of the car every time you park, even if there is no one in the back seat
  • Place a child's bag or cuddly toy in the front seat as a reminder
  • Leave a bag, phone or wallet in the back seat of the car
  • Use a mirror for rear facing car seats
  • Create a mental list of things to check each time you leave the car, for example, ‘baby, keys, wallet and phone’
  • Install electronic controls that create an audio reminder.

The Look before you lockExternal Link page has more information about fatal distraction.

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Reviewed on: 07-12-2022