1. Toddlers
  2. Safety
  3. Car & pedestrian safety

Babies and children in hot cars

0-8 years

Never leave babies and children unattended in cars. Even on a cool day, the temperature inside a car can rise to dangerous levels very quickly. If children are left in hot cars, they can be at risk of dehydration, heatstroke and even death.

Leaving children in hot cars

Never leave your child or pet alone in the car, even for a minute. If you have to leave your car for any reason, always take your child with you.

Parked cars can get hot very quickly. Even on cool or overcast days or when the car is parked in the shade, the temperature inside a car can rise to dangerous and even fatal levels very quickly.

If your child is accidentally locked in a car or you see any child left unattended in a car, call for help or notify nearby staff straightaway. If the child looks hot or distressed, call 000 immediately. You should also call local roadside assistance for help. 

Heatstroke and other facts about children in hot cars

Here’s what you need to know about children in hot cars:

  • On a hot day, the temperature inside a parked car can be as much as 40°C hotter than it is outside. On a cool day, the temperature can be over 20°C hotter. And most of this temperature rise can happen within the first five minutes.
  • Overheated cars can cause children to suffer rapid dehydrationheatstroke, suffocation and death.
  • The younger the child, the greater his sensitivity to heatstroke, and the faster he’ll dehydrate.
  • Deaths from heatstroke can happen even when cars are parked in the shade.
  • Winding the window down 5 cm or so has little effect on rising heat.
  • The colour of the seats and interior has no effect on rising heat.
  • Large cars heat up just as fast as small cars. 
If you leave a child unattended and she gets sick or injured, you can be charged with a criminal offence in some Australian states and territories, depending on the circumstances. 

Preventing children from getting locked in cars

Sometimes children are locked in cars by accident. This can happen if children hide and play in cars. It can also happen if parents don’t realise or forget that children are in the car with them – especially during busy days or when they’re in a rush.

Here are ways to avoid accidentally locking your child in the car:

  • Never give your child car keys to play with and make sure to keep keys out of reach. This can help to prevent your child from accidentally locking himself in the car.
  • Talk to your child about not playing with the buttons inside the car.
  • Always keep your car locked when you’re not in the car so your child doesn’t get in on her own.
  • If you can’t find one of the children, always check the car in case a child is hiding inside.
  • Make a reminder that your child is in the car with you. For example, you could put your child’s bag or lunch box on the front seat where you can see it.
  • Leave something on the back seat next to your child. Choose an item that you’ll need at the end of the car trip, like your phone, wallet or bag. 

Travelling tips for hot weather

The following tips can help keep your child comfortable and safe when you’re driving in hot conditions:

  • Give your child plenty of water to drink during car trips.
  • Dress your child in cool, comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. 
  • Check the temperature of car seats, harnesses and seat belts before your child gets into the car. Hot metal, plastic or leather can burn your child. If surfaces are hot, cover them with a damp cloth and then help your child into the car. 
  • Don’t loosen your child’s harness in summer – it must fit snugly whether he’s awake or asleep. A loose or twisted harness can put your child at risk of injury in a crash. 
  • Use shades on your car windows to protect your child from the sun if your windows don’t have tinting. Avoid putting a hood or bonnet over a capsule to protect a baby from the sun, because this reduces air circulation.
  • On long journeys, stop every hour so everyone can get out of the car and have a stretch. This includes babies, who can roll around on a rug on the ground. 
  • Plan car travel for the cooler times of day if you can. Cool your car as much as possible before you let your child get in.

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Last updated or reviewed
18-06-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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