Asphyxiation - Why We Can't Leave A Child Alone in A Parked Car?

Neetu Ralhan
0 to 1 years

Created by Neetu Ralhan
Updated on Jun 02, 2021

Asphyxiation Why We Cant Leave A Child Alone in A Parked Car
Reviewed by Expert panel

On June 30, 2013, the Times of India reported a tragic accident. A 2-year-old girl lost her life due to suffocation from being locked in a parked car. Her parents who had to go shopping, thinking it would not take long and the children were better off in the car left the little girl, along with two siblings in the car in sweltering heat. As the children aged 2, 3 and 5 felt short of breath and started banging on the windows, passersby tried to break open the glass. However, the parents also arrived at the same time and the children were rushed to a hospital. The older siblings were admitted to ICU in critical condition while the little girl succumbed to her fate.

Honestly, the first question that came to my mind when I read this news was “Who Does That!” and as biased as we can be at times, I do think that this happened due to negligence on the part of the parents or maybe they were just unaware of the lethal implications that could result if one left children unattended in a locked car. Whatever may be the reason it does not take away from the fact that a child lost her life.

However, the thought never left and though I did conclude that mistakes do happen in the most unexpected places, I decided to get the facts around asphyxiation into a blog. It may not be a happy read, but is an informative one for sure.

What is Asphyxiation?

Asphyxiation or Asphyxia refers to suffocation caused by severe deficiency of oxygen in the body. This can be due to obstruction or blockage in the airways, being in a low oxygen environment such as under water, exposure to excessive smoke, inhaling carbon monoxide from a vehicle’s exhaust pipe or as in the above case, a locked car. Medically, there are several other causes of asphyxia, however we will be not be discussing those here.
Asphyxiation can lead to brain damage, heart attack, coma or death.

How Can a Car’s Air Conditioning Turn Fatal?

On May 04, 2012, a 35-year-old driver in Coimbatore died of asphyxiation while napping in the back seat of his employer’s car. The air-conditioning was on. It was indicated that he died of asphyxia due to inhaling carbon monoxide, which accumulated inside the vehicle while he slept. Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless and colorless gas, and cannot be detected by humans. In a running car, air circulation occurs automatically. However when it is stationary, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide slowly start accumulating inside the vehicle, which can prove fatal, especially for a young child.

Tip to curb fatality due to carbon monoxide inhalation: Every vehicle has a re-circulation button at the dashboard / control panel which must be turned on to allow air circulation when the vehicle is parked with the air conditioner on.  

What is Heat Stroke in a Hot Car?

While most of us think that a heat stroke may happen when an individual is out under the harsh summer sun however, I will briefly mention the risks of leaving a small child in a car when the temperatures outside are soaring.
On a sunny day, a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees in all of 10 minutes and by almost 45 degrees in a span of 1-2 hours. As sunlight and heat get trapped inside the car, the internal parts get heated and begin to radiate their own heat, which can escalate the car’s temperature even further.
Children’s bodies heat up much faster than adults and a small child in a car parked in the sun can lose her life due to heat stroke in less than 15 minutes.  

What May be Another Reason for a Child to get Accidently Trapped in a Car?

On May 2, 2012, three little girls aged between 6-7 years lost their lives in a similar manner in a small town in Andhra Pradesh. The girls got into a parked car and somehow the doors got locked. The children were visiting a relative in summer holidays. As the children could not open the doors, they cried for help but unfortunately no one heard them, their parents thinking that they had gone out to play. After almost three hours all three were found dead in the car.

Child lock is a feature that most cars come quipped with and these days, activating child locks and window locks is a common child safety practice. Therefore, even if a child tries to get out of the vehicle, they may not be able to do so.
Additionally, when the brain is robbed of oxygen, one becomes dizzy, disoriented and physically weak. A child, whose defense mechanisms have not fully developed, will reach this stage more quickly and may even faint before they realize that they have to ask for help.  

Aren’t Older Children Safer, Since They Can Easily Raise an Alarm?

Agreed that younger children may be more susceptible to the risk, however a regular non-threatening situation can very quickly turn into a life threatening one. A small mechanical glitch can outsmart even the most alert individual. Besides the child may lose consciousness or simply be taking a nap.  

What is The First Aid That May Be Given to An Asphyxiated Child?

  1. Moving the person to fresh air as quickly as possible is ideal.
  2. Loosening all clothing and giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  3. Do not panic and immediately call for medical help as in such a situation, every second counts.

Most importantly, avoiding leaving a child in a closed vehicle (whether the air conditioning is running or not) may just be the best practice. If at all it is required, one needs to ensure that it is for a very short duration, an adult accompanies the child and the windows are rolled down.
If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, please do not move past – reach out to the child, ask them to roll down the window and ask the child to call her parents using your cell phone. You may be saving a life! 

Mankind owes to the child the best it has to give. - unknown author


This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Oct 10, 2013

Gr8 piece of information Neetu! Thnx for sharing it.

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| Oct 10, 2013

Thank you Shikha :)

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| Oct 10, 2013

Great information Neetu and a much needed blog too. I remember reading about the June 30th incident and was saddened by it. It was terrible! You have mentioned an interesting aspect which is child lock in cars. When child lock is activated, there is possibility of simultaneously locking the windows, hence, they cannot be rolled down. It is always important to know about the consequences of such acts, which we can do without a second thought. Thanks Neetu for the wonderful blog :)

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| Jul 17, 2020

This is a very important message.... thank you for sharing

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