Keeping our children safe in cars correctly


We recognise the continued increase in children dying due to thermal injury by being accidentally left in cars. Twenty minutes in full sun in a closed vehicle is all that is needed to kill a young child.

To prevent this tragedy, it is important that parents and carers receive good, accurate and scientific information. A news report by Bernama today (see: quotes the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and its Minister Datuk Sri Hajah Rohani Abdul Karim on advice to prevent these events. Unfortunately part of the advice provided is factually incorrect and potentially harmful. Perhaps the Minister and Ministry were misquoted. Such misinformation can potentially harm children, as parents will consider such a source as authoritative.

Firstly, the report advises parents to place “infants on the front seat and tied to a safety belt”. Care must be taken with this blanket suggestion. Good research, evidence and international expert guidelines recommend that children should only use a seat belt independently when it fits them, i.e., the seat belt runs on their bodies and not their necks. This is usually when they reach a height of 145-150cm and are above 12 years of age. Children between eight and 12 years can use a seat belt but only with a booster seat that elevates them. Infants and younger children should only use an age appropriate car safety seat.

Secondly, the report advises parents to place “infants on the front seat” and states that “children are not permitted to be placed on the back seat, especially behind the driver’s seat because it is a blind spot”. Most evidence and international expert guidelines recommend that young children under five years should be placed in a car safety seat in the back, preferably in the centre back seat. In many developed countries, it is illegal to put a child in a child car safety seat in the front passenger seat as the passenger airbag poses a danger in case of an accident.

We hope that Bernama and the relevant ministry will consider making corrections to the report rapidly before misinformation spreads.

Finally, we would like to share what works to reduce the risk of leaving your child in the car.

Remember the mechanism of these deaths – the key factor is a distracted parent, one who has too much on the mind and is rushing to complete many tasks on a busy day. The child is often young, almost always under six years of age, who has fallen asleep in the back of the car. So we need firm/regular routines:

1. Keep an important item in the back seat with your child, an item that you cannot do without at a meeting, work or shopping. For example, keep your purse or your hand phone or shoe on the floorboard of the back seat. This will serve to remind you as you leave the car.

2. Keep an object in the front seat to remind you of your child, like a stuffed animal. Swap the child and the object when you place the child in the back seat and vice versa when you take your child out of the vehicle.

3. Remind your carer, babysitter or kindergarten teacher to call you if your child does not turn up at the correct time. This can serve as a back-up safety net.

4. As public, it is our vital duty to stop whenever we see any child left alone in a car. Find out why and call the police if you cannot immediately find the parents.

5. There are technologies being developed to support parents and we should keep abreast of them – car seats with built-in sensors/alarms, apps with alerts/reminders and GPS trackers/distance alerts for our children.

Finally, let’s get our priorities right and spend more time in the present with your children. The future can wait.

Thank you.

Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Senior Consultant Paediatrician, Hospital RPB Ipoh

Dr Toh Teck Hock
Consultant Paediatrician, Hospital Sibu

Prof Dr Krishnan Rajam
Senior Consultant Family Physician, Penang Medical College