Can you leave kids in a car? Ever?

10 August 2017
 by 
, CarsGuide

Hands up who takes their children with them while they pop into the corner store to get a loaf of desperately needed bread because Millie (Ms 3) insists her tummy is empty and Max (Mr 5) is having what you fondly call "starving palpitations" and there is - hold the phone it's a bonafide disaster - not a single thing to eat (read: that they will actually eat) in the house? It turns out to be a 10 minute stop instead of a two minute one, because they whinge around the lollipop/Kinder Surprise/icecream stand and you end up caving and buying whatever they want.

Of course, it would be much easier if you could just leave them in the car while you ran in... but you can't, right?

Every parent has their line in the sand on where and how long they can leave their child unattended in a car. For some, it's absolutely never. For others, it's a few minutes. And others, longer.

"I sometimes leave my baby in the car while I pop in to get Jack from daycare," says Belinda*, 29, "I know I'm only going to be a couple of minutes and I make sure the doors are locked and the keys are with me."

"When I had my first child, I wouldn't leave her alone even at the servo," says Tracy*, 34. "When number two came along, it became harder. Once when it was raining, I had to carry two heavy, complaining children in to pay - I was really struggling and the attendant even commented how hard it was! Now they are a bit older, I can leave them on their own at petrol stations, as long as I can still see them."

But what is legal? While the penalties differ across states, the general rule in Australia is that we should never leave kids in a car unattended.

The only exception is when taking the children out of the car may be more hazardous than leaving them in - if, for example you're at a petrol station which resembles a six-lane highway, perhaps navigating your three children inside to pay is not the best idea.

"The thing to do in that situation is either organise to get petrol at a time when you don't have the children, or pay at the pump," says Vicky Milne, Road Safety Manager at Kidsafe NSW. So, still, don't leave the kids in the car alone.

But the bigger issue is people who leave their children in locked cars for longer periods.

On a 20 degree day, the temperature inside the car can get to 60 degrees. 75% of that temperature rise will happen in the first five minutes. On a hot day, the stats get even worse. 30 degrees outside turns to 70 degrees inside. An internal body temperature of 41.7 degrees is considered lethal for humans, and Victoria recently doubled their maximum penalty jail time to highlight the problem, after three children died from being left in locked cars.

And leaving the window open slightly doesn't help - it only drops the temp by a few degrees. Not enough to save the insides of your kids. We don't mean to sound scary but… this is scary business.

Facts: Kids bodies heat up three to five times more quickly than adults. The colour of the car doesn't help. The colour of the inside of the car doesn't help. In fact, Kidsafe NSW has just released a video where chef Matt Moran literally used a car as an oven and cooked lamb inside it. When he pulls it out, it's well done and sizzling. Children have died because they've been left in cars too long, and in the past 12 months, 5000 kids have been left in cars in Australia. The sunburnt country.

So, what if you have been trying for hours to get them to go down and they've fallen asleep just as you pull into the driveway. Can you leave a baby in a car, watching them sleep with the car doors all open?

"No," said Milne, "we would always recommend you take them inside. You shouldn't leave them in car restraints for too long at one time anyway, and there are other things that can heat up even with the doors open, like seat belt buckles."

While the exact wording on laws varies from state to state, they are all in agreement that you cannot leave kids unattended in cars for any unreasonable amount of time, or if the child is in distress or their health is in danger. Punishment is severe because believe it or not, hot car deaths keep on happening. Here's what laws on children in cars mean you're up for.

VIC

A fine (currently $3690), or;
A maximum of six months jail.

NSW

200 penalty units

QLD

Maximum penalty is three years imprisonment.

WA

A maximum fine of $36,000 and max of three years imprisonment.

SA

Up to five years imprisonment.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Where do you stand on unattended child laws? What's your line in the sand for leaving kids in the car? 30 seconds? One minute? Not at all? Tell us in the comments below.

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