News reports of kids being left alone in vehicles for extended periods of time are by no means restricted to the summer months. But the danger of heatstroke means that those reports take on more of an urgent nature to remind parents that it is not OK to leave kids in the car while you’re off buying the groceries, shopping, or running errands.
The dangers of heatstroke
Babies and young children are less able to regulate their body temperature which makes them susceptible to heatstroke in a short period of time. Their core temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult. They may also not be old enough to exit the vehicle or understand that they are in danger.
According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the temperature in a car can increase by approximately eight degrees in only 10 minutes. In thirty minutes, the temperature in a car can rise to 51C when the ambient temperature outside is 31C. By the hour mark, it can be as much as 60C. Even on a cooler summer day, say 23C, the temperature inside the vehicle can reach 40C in half an hour. The report also shows that “cracking a window” does not make a significant difference and the temperature inside the vehicle will still rise to a dangerous level.
“Even a brief entrapment in a vehicle can expose a child to heat stroke (having a temperature above 40 degrees),” states the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.
Unless the body is quickly cooled down, heatstroke can cause confusion, nausea and vomiting, a raised heart rate, headache, rapid breathing and seizures. Severe complications include swelling in the brain and other organs, possibly resulting in permanent damage, or even death.
Leaving kids unsupervised is against the law
Leaving babies and kids unsupervised is not only dangerous, it’s against the law. Here’s the legal bit. Section 10B of the Summary Offences Act 1981, states:
10B Leaving child without reasonable supervision and care
Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, being a parent or guardian or a person for the time being having the care of a child under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.
When is it OK to leave kids in the car?
Scorching summer temperatures aside, is it ever OK to leave the kids in the car?
Now here’s the tricky part when interpreting the law. In the definition above, careful consideration must be made of what is “reasonable”. Don’t only think about what YOU think is reasonable – think about what the POLICE would consider reasonable. And remember that every circumstance will bring up new considerations so none of these examples should be taken as legal advice.
- Popping in to the servo to pay for petrol when your car is within sight? Surely it’s reasonable to leave the kids in the locked car? I mean, it’s definitely safer than hauling a carful of kids across a busy forecourt! If it leaves you feeling uneasy, use ‘pay at the pump’ stations or go fill up when you don’t have the kids with you.
- Ducking into the dairy to grab a bottle of milk when you know it will take less than a minute? If you’ve parked right outside the dairy and you are aware that you may need to return to the car if there’s a queue at the counter to bring the kids out, then again, most people would consider that reasonable.
- Going into the supermarket to pick up a few items? No. You can’t see the kids. You honestly don’t know how long it will take. Bring them with you.
- If you are ever in doubt if something is reasonable, then it’s safer to take the kids with you.
Written by Julie Scanlon
Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire.
Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”