Children left roasting in cars by careless parents
An extraordinary five children every day are being trapped in locked cars - exposing them to deadly temperatures that can reach a "cooking" point of up to 80C.
And NSW Ambulance is reporting a spike in call-outs for the cases - with numbers of incidents where they are called rising almost 30 per cent this summer compared with last year.
As Sydney endures heatwave temperatures today - due to reach 45C out west - authorities are pleading with parents never to leave babies and children alone in cars.
This year so far the NRMA has rescued 136 children from being stuck in vehicles. It followed 150 rescues in December, 156 in November and 172 in October, averaging five per day.
On Tuesday last week paramedics were called to check a one-month-old baby stuck in a car at Belmore and on Friday, a four-month-old was locked in a car at Maroubra and both safely released.
Distressed parents and bystanders called the NSW Ambulance service in 42 of the cases over December/January, compared with 30 cases last year.
"There's been a 29 per cent increase on last year and that's significant," NSW Ambulance inspector Carolyn Parish
"It can claim a child's life.
"In most circumstances it's a simple accident but the consequences can be catastrophic."
Inspector Parrish said 99 pc of time parents were absolutely distraught over what had happened and needed support themselves.
NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said the issue was "a massive problem".
"Most cases are people inadvertently locking children in a car but there are still far too many cases of parents where children have been simply forgotten," he said.
"On the 49 degree day we had a couple of weeks ago, inside the car within a few minutes it could reach 80 degrees - which is cooking temperatures. That's no place for a child or pet."
Children can suffer seizures, heat stroke, fevers, stroke and death from being confined in an enclosed car, with a Port Stephens five-year-old girl dying in December after being found in a car on a hot day.
Mr Khoury said the overwhelming majority of cases were accidental, where parents were rushing and trying to pack groceries or beach gear in a car after strapping the children into seats. In many cases they had handed keys to a child, or put them down in the boot.
Kidsafe NSW executive director Christine Erskine said "keys are not a toy" and to never give them to children, or put them down on a seat where a child can pick them up.
"Better to consciously hang onto the key, pop it in your bra-strap or pocket," she said. Another problem she flagged was some of the newer keyless technology in some cars, where cars lock themselves, so parents have to be especially alert.
On 7 December last year in Dubbo two children were accidentally locked in a car after it automatically locked itself, NSW Ambulance reported.
Ms Erskin said youngsters suffer heat meltdown within minutes.
"Children do not tolerate heat as well as adults because of their bodies generate more heat relative to their size than adults and they lose more fluids because they have a greater proportion of skin surface for their size," she said.
Two sisters died in Queensland in November and their mother has been charged with murder, while in Melbourne another mother was charged a fortnight ago with negligence and reckless conduct after her 14-month-old son was left in a critical condition after being left alone in a car in 38-degree heat.
Animals are also suffering from forgetful or negligent owners. The NRMA rescued 151 animals in January and 1528 last year.
NSW Police figures show they were called out to 101 rescues of children in December, and a total of 997 last year, slightly up on 2018's figure of 996. The majority of cases were children under two.
Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said winding down the windows a little was not enough to make the car safe.
"I cannot stress strongly enough how dangerous it can be for children or pets to be left unattended in a vehicle," he said.
"It can be just as dangerous to leave the elderly and vulnerable members of the community in cars during days of extreme heat.
Car manufacturers are working on bringing in new technology that will have "child presence" detection capabilities, with independent non-profit car rating agency ANCAP planning to test the new systems from 2022.
"There are already some vehicle brands which provide this technology, including the Hyundai Santa Fe released last year," chief executive James Goodwin said.
"We're saying to vehicle brands - if you've got the technology available now, bring it in as soon as you can as it could save a life."