With temperatures set to soar again across most of Australia today, in some places reaching well into the forties, parents are again being reminded of the very real dangers of leaving children in cars.
According to the Ambulance Victoria, ambulance officers attended to over 1433 calls related to kids left in cars over the last year. 374 of those calls related to babies. 40 per cent of the calls occurred between December and March- typically when we endure our hottest days.
The reality is that children die in hot cars.
In late 2015, celebrity chef Matt Moran cooked an entire lamb loin in the back seat of a car to prove just how easily temperatures can soar.
Ambulance Victoria says on a 29 degree day (something some of us would consider to be mild) the inside of a car can reach over 44 degrees within the space of 10 minutes. Twenty minutes later, the internal temperatures can be over 60 degrees. That’s perhaps a quick dash in to the supermarket with a longer than expected queue at the register.
This week the Victoria Government, along with Kidsafe, launched their joint campaign “No Exceptions, No Excuses” in a bid to educate parents of the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. Rebecca Judd, model and mother of two, has been chosen as the campaign’s ambassador.
“It doesn’t matter if you accidentally lock the keys in the car or you make a deliberate decision to leave the child in the car, the risks are the same,” according to Ambulance Victoria. “Young children can’t regulate their body temperatures like we can. That puts them at a significant risk and being left in a car can quickly become life threatening”.
Devastatingly this was the case for Sophie Cavaliero, who’s parents Brett and Kristie mistakenly left her locked inside the family car for over four hours. By the time her parents realised their error, it was too late.
The horrific mistake happened as a result of father Brett operating, as so many parents do, on autopilot. Professor Matt Mundy, a memory expert from Melbourne’s Monash University told 60 Minutes that when we are distracted, short-term memory can be blanked out. Somebody who’s distracted operates on ‘autopilot’, and will often fill in their actions while in that state with prior memories from similar occasions. In this case, Brett simply forgot that he hadn’t dropped his daughter off at daycare and instead took the normal route to work, leaving his car and starting the day.
Technologies are currently in development to reduce the chance of these kind of tragedies occurring. Tim O'Connor, a paramedic and father of two, has come up with a device that he believes could save lives, like Sophie's. By sending parents an SMS reminder if they leave the vehicle without unlocking the device- which is fitted to the child's car seat- preventable deaths could be reduced.
Some parents have questioned whether the same warnings are relevant for newer model cars which have the ability to remain running with the air conditioning on. Parents are able to lock the running car and leave with the keys say, while they run in to a shop.
While obviously better than locking a child in a car with no air conditioning, it must be remembered that like all things, cars can fail. Without a parent there to monitor it, the situation could turn deadly. Paul Holman, Ambulance Victoria's State Health Commander says "Leaving a child under any circumstances has risks" and advised that parents should always take children with them when leaving the car.
While the situation may be slightly inconvenient at times, the consequences could be catastrophic.