Leaving Kids in the Car

News reports of kids being left alone in vehicles for extended periods of time are by no means restricted to the summer months. However, 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.

Share your thoughts about what circumstances you think are reasonable (or unreasonable) for leaving kids in the car?

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her world julieWritten 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”


  1. Alezandra 03/03/2019 at 10:16 pm

    This issue has been debated time and time again about the amount of time or when is it acceptable to leave kids in the car. We only think it’s okay till it’s not. The side of caution should be the way it goes. The only 5 mins situation can mean a lot of things…you losing keys as you walk off. etc. I am the type that can get paranoid though. Maybe too much?

  2. felicity beets 02/03/2019 at 8:07 pm

    I do think it is really handy how you can pay at the petrol pump stations. I do wish that supermarkets would do drive through click and collect so you don’t have to actually go inside the store – this would be such an amazing service to offer.

  3. kymmage 28/02/2019 at 8:30 pm

    If I’m just going in to pay for petrol then yeah I have left them. But then they are older. My youngest always wants to wait in the car, and I have to explain she can’t because of the heat. Times certainly have changed though. I don’t feel comfortable leaving my kids for long in the car, but I spent a lot of my childhood waiting in cars….

  4. MuddledUpMolly 27/02/2019 at 3:54 pm

    There have been so many sad stories lately about children being left in hot cars and it is just not worth it 🙁 I would never leave my children in the car, I would rather the stress of managing three out and about rather than risking harm to them.

  5. dawnblyth 27/02/2019 at 10:52 am

    I have actually spoken to a man who was leaving a new born baby in the car while going into the supermarket. He listened and took baby with him bubble he had no idea – his response was ‘ill only be 5mins’ – that’s all it takes! Was very confronting

  6. SarahBlair 26/02/2019 at 2:29 pm

    I don’t leave my kids in the car alone (unless my teenagers are with us to supervise the littlies) it’s not worth the risk, there are many heartbreaking stories of when parents break routine (dad is dropping the baby to daycare cause mum, who would usually do it is busy that day eg) and going into autopilot and forgetting to stop to drop the baby off… its so easily done and a tragic mistake, but knowingly doing it to go shopping or to play the pokies… that’s just unforgivable!

  7. Shorrty4life1 13/02/2019 at 12:31 pm

    Wow I never knew that kids temperatures can rise 3 times faster than an adults temperature. This is all pretty good facts for me as a nurse trainee. I found this article a great read. I hate being in a car on a hot day even just driving around with windows down so myself would never leave my kids in a hot car and feel sad seeing these stories of kids and babies being neglected like this. Such a terrible thing to have a child overheated in a car. There’s no excuse really in my opinion.

  8. Jen_Wiig 13/02/2019 at 12:30 pm

    For me leaving kids in the car ever is a big NO even whwn popping into the dairy for milk lets say… Usually this also entails leaving the keys in the car amd/or doors unlocked and windows down… All of thst to me spells possible diaster and just not worth it for a bottle of milk… It may seem paeonoid to people but better safe than sorry just in my opinion, however i wont frown upon a caregiver for doing so themsleves unless they are intentionally leaving them to go into a supermarket or the likes then id be that one who smashes the window and callsthe cops hahaha… 5mins or more i dont care its just not what you do regardless of temperature and excuses like wi dow was partly down and they had a milk drink… You dont leave your little ones home alone so a vehicle should be trested the same imo

  9. Bevik1971 06/02/2019 at 9:27 am

    I’m not ok with leaving kids in the car at anytime really. Depending on age a super fast dash into a dairy when you can still see your child/children is ok, but it really breaks my heart (not to mention making me really mad) when I read the stories with parents who are in the TAB or similar and their little babies are in the car alone and on a hot day 😞

  10. Mands1980 05/02/2019 at 2:38 pm

    I think what is reasonable if you can see the children and know you will be quick to get what ever it is you need. Not acceptable is shopping, gambling etc which we have been hearing in the news as soon as the car is turned off it turn hot very very fast they need to fine these people and ensure everything is alright with the children as what else may happen to them if nothing is done?

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