Car safety: Keep children safe in the summer heat

Children should never be left in an unattended vehicle, especially during hot summer months. Cars heat up quickly and a child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s does. The current high rate of vehicle crime adds another element of danger for children left alone in cars.

It’s quite surprising how quickly cars heat up. If your car is parked in the sun and it’s just 24C outside, the interior of your car can increase by at least 10C in just 10 minutes. Within 30 minutes, the inside of your car could be at 50C.

“In 2021, we saw a viral news story of a car thief in Oregon, US, who found a child in the back seat of a car he stole from a supermarket parking lot. When he saw the child in the back seat, he promptly went back to the store, found the mother, and scolded her for leaving the child unattended in the car and then drove off in her vehicle. This true story has a happy ending for the child, but it could have been devastating. With South Africa’s high rate of vehicle crime, it’s simply too dangerous to leave children alone in a car,” points out Barend Smit, Marketing Director of MotorHappy, a supplier of motor management solutions and car insurance options.

Every year there are at least one or two stories of parents who forget their children in the car, sometimes with tragic consequences. This can happen to any parent for several reasons including a change in routine, sleep deprivation, time pressures and stress.

Below are a few tips to help you remember that your child is in the back seat:

  • Put something you need in the back seat. Some examples: your cell phone, your handbag, your employee ID, or even one of your shoes
  • Set a reminder on your cell phone
  • Keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat. When the child is in the car seat, place the stuffed animal in the front seat. This becomes a visual reminder that your child is in the back
  • Make it a habit to look into the back seat before you lock your car, even when your child is not in the car
  • Ask your child’s day care or child minder to always let you know if your child does not arrive when expected
  • If your child is old enough, teach them how to work the hooter so they can call for help if they’re accidently locked in the car

“There’s also the danger of children getting into hot cars on their own and are then unable to get out. Keep the car locked and keys out of reach, and teach children that cars are unsafe to play in,” says Smit.

If you regularly travel with your child in the car on a hot day, the tips below are useful:

  • Park in the shade whenever possible, to keep your car cooler
  • Tinted windows help keep the car cooler
  • If you don’t have air conditioner, purchase a portable air conditioner for the back seat
  • Carry bottles of water to keep children (and yourself!) hydrated
  • Invest in cooling seat covers and buckle covers
  • If you don’t have buckle covers, lay a blanket or towel over seatbelt buckles and buckles on car seats, so they don’t burn your child when you get into the car

Important: These tips might keep your car cooler and your child safe while travelling, but they will not help your child if they are left alone in a hot parked car. Never leave your child in an unattended vehicle.

“If you see a child alone in a locked car, do what you can to help. Just a couple of minutes can be the difference between life and death for a child trapped inside a hot vehicle.  

“If the child is responsive but unable to open a door or windows, alert centre management or security guards. Stay with the child and try to recruit some help in finding the child’s parents,” advises Smit.

If the child is unresponsive:

  • Immediately call emergency services (112 or 10117)
  • Get the child out of the car, even if you must break a window. There will be a lot of shattered glass, so break the window furthest from the child
  • Sprinkle cool water on the child
  • Stay with the child until help arrives