Children should not be left in vehicles

Parents believe that leaving a child locked in a car may be safe, but are putting their children's lives in danger.

Experts say children are at risk of serious harm or death if left in parked cars even briefly in the summer heat. Sammy Dallal / The National
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ABU DHABI // Parents believe a child left in a car parked in the shade will be safe, but they are putting their children’s lives in danger, experts say.

Dubai Police reported finding 42 children locked in cars so far this year, compared with 119 last year and 130 in 2014.

Sanet Meyer, emergency room director at Burjeel Hospital, said: “Parents leave their children in their car to make it easier, faster, and more convenient for them to work on their day-to-day errands. People give reasons like they are unable to concentrate with a child crying, running, or being carried during quick runs to the shop or to pick up laundry.”

A child should not be left alone in the car at all, she said.

“Some parents have a tendency to forget, especially if they usually do not drop off kids as part of their routine. Some parents leave their children in the car intentionally, unaware of the danger that the extreme heat poses for the child, even for a short period of time,” she said.

Health experts said parents often left children because they did not understand how a child’s body functioned or the possible repercussions of their actions.

Dr Rajeshree Singhania, a paediatrician at Singhania Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City, said many children were brought to her clinic suffering from heatstroke. “Parents don’t tell me that the child was left out in the heat. Only on careful investigation do you find out,” she said.

Children are extremely sensitive to heat, which can directly impair their central nervous systems, causing seizures, comas and even death, Dr Singhania said. “Babies strapped in the car seat can’t help themselves or hydrate themselves. Their muscles can also get damaged and the electrolyte imbalance can -affect their heart,” she said.

Last year, The National reported that the temperature in a parked car after the air conditioning was turned off could rise to 50°C in only 20 minutes.

“Children have immature thermo-regulatory systems. Even five minutes can be very dangerous for very young children,” Dr Singhania said.

Dr Magdi Mohamed, consultant in Emergency Medicine at Burjeel Hospital said: “When the heat reaches a certain degree, it affects the brain.” Asphyxiation because of lack of oxygen was also possibe, he said.

Khawla Saleh, adviser at Child Health and Safety, said that with the air conditioning left on, the chances of heat stroke would be lower, but the child was still not entirely safe.

She pointed out that an unsupervised child could turn the ignition key off, release the handbrake or open the door and get out.

“People say that leaving a child in a locked car in the shade or on a slightly cooler day is fine,” she said. But things could change quickly.” Imagine what it does to our children when the temperatures rise so sharply in an unventilated car.”

Ms Saleh called for better education for parents about the dangers, including safety briefings in hospitals for new mothers.