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An Indefensible Act

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The case where a woman left her 18-month-old son locked in a car in the middle of “Christmas havoc”, apparently having forgotten he was there, horrified me. I have thought about this incident for more than a month now.

He was sweating and screaming when a member of the public smashed one of the car windows to get to the child. This boy had been locked in the car for 20 minutes. In that time the temperature had soared to an estimated 60 degrees – a temperature hotter than I have a shower.

One of the reasons this incident horrified me so much was I have left my baby in the car while I paid for petrol thinking, “oh it’s only for a minute or two”. Does a minute or two really make it OK? Yes it’s a pain to get the child out of the car and carry them into pay, and what do you do with them while you’re actually paying? That really isn’t the issue, though, is it?

She was charged for her crime – I’m sure what could have happened is something that will stay with her for the rest of her life. But it happens all the time. NRMA figures show 1,890 children were rescued from parked cars in 2007/08.

Minister for Community Services Linda Burney said there is zero tolerance for leaving children in cars. There is no defence, even though I admit to having done it myself. It is never acceptable to put your child’s life at risk by leaving them in a car, even for a few minutes like I did.

“There is never a safe time to leave your children in the car. Heat in cars can kill children three times more quickly than it would adults,” Ms Burney said.

“The inside of a car can reach dangerously high temperatures very quickly, even with the window slightly open.

“For example, on a typical Australian summer day, the temperature inside a parked car can be as much as 30 to 40 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. On a 30 degree day, the temperature inside the car could be as high as 70 degrees.”

Leaving a child unattended in a locked in a car is a crime under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 and the fine can be as much as $22,000.

This Sydney mother of four who was charged for leaving her son in the car before Christmas made me ask “what if?” I was outraged when I saw the story all over the news, but when I dwelled on it, aren’t I just as guilty because I did it as well? Is the fact I did it for two minutes more acceptable compared with 20? Or that the car was parked in the shade at under the petrol station roof, and not on the street?

4 Comments on “An Indefensible Act”

  1. An Idle Dad says:

    Helicopter parenting (and nanny state) at work yet again? Surely common sense has some part to play.

    There’s not a complete ban on drink driving, there’s an blood-level alcohol limit. In the same fashion, there needs to be a balance between caution and pragmatism on this subject.

    Leaving my 1yo quietly sleeping strapped in the car while I pay for petrol is zero risk.

    Secondly, what about during winter? Could you be charged with leaving a child in a car on a cold day? Ridiculous.

    Thirdly, aren’t you inviting the Daily Telegraph to stalk petrol stations and plaster private citizens’ photos on a Sunday spread with “BAD MUM” written under it and an appropriately unmonitored hate-fest comments section?

    Yes it is terrible when it happens, but a complete ban is a poor solution.

  2. Nicole says:

    Great post Joh, and as most people I have also left my son in the car while I run in to pay for petrol. But I hate it! Not only do I stress that someone could take him but I always worry it is getting to hot for him. To the point where I must look like the most impatient customer in the world. I never take my eye off the car and run straight back.

    But I agree is it really better leaving them for 2 mins, not really. But it is one of those topics that no one will admit to. Congrats to you for having the guts to admit it.

  3. Idle Dad, I take your point and think we can be over-protective at times – in fact it was the reason I was able to justify what I did, but there is always going to be the ‘what if?’ question.

    Nicole, thanks. It is a hard line to negotiate when weighing up the pros and cons.

  4. An Idle Dad says:

    Thanks Johanna. My only quibble is I’d say you used common sense when you left your child in the car, not “justified” an illegal act.

    But then again, it is in the news today – maybe people are just too stupid? *sigh*

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