Henry Brifter didn’t think he was the kind of person who would lock a baby in a car on a hot day.
“I was flabbergasted that I had actually caused this series of events,” he says. The 45-year-old used his electronic key to open the double doors at the back of the family’s Mini Cooper Clubman, after taking his two-year-old daughter, Melissa, to Clovelly for a lunchtime swim.
“I put all the bags, and the baby, in the back, and my keys were in there as well,” he remembers. “I closed the wagon then tried to get in the driver’s door, but the entire car was locked.”
With the temperature reaching 32 degrees, Henry waited 20 minutes for his wife, Sophie, to drive from Surry Hills with a spare set of keys.
The temperature inside a parked car can be up to 40 degrees hotter than outside, according to Kidsafe.
Last Thursday a 22-month-old boy was found dead in a sweltering vehicle in the driveway of a home, operating as a daycare centre, in Kyneton, north of Melbourne. Homicide squad detectives are investigating. But chief marketing manager for AGA, Damien Arthur, says most incidents are accidental.
“The most common reason is advances in car technology, and owners not being aware of the developments, for example, cars randomly deadlocking or automatically locking,” Mr Arthur said.
Ambulance NSW says it can become dangerously hot in a car within minutes. “As the heat rises, it can have very dire effects on body cells which may lead to organ failure, shock, unconsciousness and even death,” says the NSW Ambulance Director of Education, Alan Morrison.
Mr Brifter said Melissa was crying, as bystanders offered to smash the windows. “I was freaking out,” he said. “It was quite distressing, people were gathering around making noise, so it scared her even more.”
Allianz Global Assistance said there has been an alarming increase in the number of children being locked in cars in recent years.
Many parents give children the car keys as a form of entertainment.
“Parents are much more time-poor, they’re rushing around, and it’s easy to do without really thinking,” he said.
Under laws introduced in Victoria last month, penalties for leaving children unattended in cars increased from fines of $2214 to $3690, and from three to six months’ jail. But the problem is worse in NSW, according to figures from Allianz.
Combined figures from Allianz, NRMA & RACV show that there were 4427 lockouts nationally in 2014, including 2853 in NSW. Allianz figures alone show it had 106 lockouts in NSW in 2013, which rose to 153 in 2014.
So far this year, according to Allianz, there have been 12 in NSW and 10 in Victoria.
“Our warmer summers, and advances in car technology, mean people need to think ahead and be mindful of how easily these things can happen,” Mr Arthur said.
“Simple tips like having toys in the car instead of letting kids play with keys, familiarising yourself with the car’s functions, and ensuring you have your roadside assistance details with you, so you can get immediate help if needed.”
Mr Brifter advises parents to unlock the whole car, rather than just the boot, before putting children inside.