This month’s research piece concerns children being left alone in cars in the UK.
The aim of this piece is to draw attention to the facts and figures behind this phenomenon in the hope of informing drivers and potentially bringing about a change in attitudes towards it.
All figures are quoted from research conducted by Opinium Research on behalf of Kwik Fit Insurance Services. The sample size was 2,002 UK adults aged 18+ to a nationally representative sample, between 16th-18th June, 2015.
At a Glance
- Over 8 million UK parents admit to leaving young children alone in the car
- The average longest time children are left on their own is 22 minutes
- Over a quarter (28%) of parents aged 18-34 who left their children in the car did so because they forgot they were there
- On average, 7 year olds are the youngest to be left alone
Driving with children in the back seat is a cause of stress and hassle for most parents: extra safety precautions, temper tantrums and forgotten items can make it a lot more trouble than simply leaving the kids in somebody else’s care. As families are often reminded, leaving children in the car unsupervised can be dangerous.
Yet our research suggests almost one quarter (24%) of UK parents have left young children alone in the car in the past whilst out running errands.
Through this research, we will analyse the reasons parents leave their children behind, while also touching on the frequency of pets being left in the car – another surprisingly common occurrence which, while convenient, can be dangerous and even prove fatal.
Without doubt, the risks to leaving small children in cars without adult supervision are high: poor ventilation, rising temperatures and no way to escape in the case of an emergency. There is also a legal risk; under UK law parents can be prosecuted for leaving children unsupervised “‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”.
Clearly, this also goes against NSPCC guidelines for leaving children alone.
These state that:
- Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
- Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left alone for a long period of time
Younger parents most at fault
Not only did our survey reveal that 24% of all parents have left their children in the car unsupervised but that, of these, the highest frequency occurred in respondents aged 18-34, with 42% of respondents confirming that they had done so.
Notably, the region with the highest number of parents who have left their children in cars is London, one of the UK’s warmest areas.
Here 37% of all respondents from the capital answered affirmatively, followed by the 29% in the South West counties and 28% in Wales.
Men slightly more guilty than women
Men are more likely to leave children in the car.
The study concluded that 52% of adults that left their young children in the car were men.
Children as young as one yearsof age left unsupervised
A surprising 9% of parents who had left their children in the car admitted to doing so while their baby was under a year old. The most common age of children left behind in the car was revealed to be between 4-10 years old (48% of parents), with 11-13 year olds following close behind (18% of parents).
Interestingly there was no consistent pattern across age groups of which gender would be most likely to leave the younger children in the car.
However, overall, the following breakdown (Fig. 2) indicates that, despite men being the more irresponsible overall, when looking specifically at the data for younger children it is in fact women who are guiltier of leaving children in the car.
18-34 year olds are the most guilty age group for young children
As shown in the data below (Fig. 3), younger parents had a far higher rate of leaving younger children behind, while older parents tended towards higher percentages around ages 7-13.
Overall, the average age of children left in the car by parents aged 18-34 was five years old; for 35-54-year-old parents this age increases to age eight, and then up to age nine for parents over 55.
The overall average age is seven years old.
Older parents and grandparents more cautious
An important consideration in the survey was how long children were left in the car without adult supervision (for the factors attributing to this, see figure 4, below). One third of respondents said they only left their children in the car for up to 10 minutes. Despite this, when averaging out all those who admitted leaving their children in the car, the figure was considerably higher: 22 minutes.
This number increased among men, who averaged out at around 27 minutes, while women only reported 17 minutes. Younger parents were also found to leave their children for longer; those aged 18-34 reported an average of 28 minutes, while the 35-54 age group averaged 22 minutes and the 55+ respondents just 15 minutes.
Reasons include “quick tasks” and “sleeping children”
Amongst parents aged 18-34 who left their children in the car alone, one in six (16%) locked them in as a punishment and, perhaps most worryingly, over a quarter (28%) left their children behind because they forgot about them. Men were twice as likely to use this as a punishment, while women have a significantly higher percentage of leaving children behind if the child seems to be ill (15% of women to 9% of men).
Older parents, aged 55+, seemed more biased towards keeping the little ones happy - 32% said they left children in the car because the children wanted to stay there, and 38% felt they were old enough to be left in the car on their own.
Top ten reasons for leaving children in cars amongst all UK adults
|I was doing a quick task e.g. filling the petrol tank/nipping out to the shops||56%|
|Child was sleeping||38%|
|Child wanted to stay in the car||33%|
|I thought they were old enough to stay in the car on their own||31%|
|I was in a rush and didn’t have time to get them ready||14%|
|Forgot to take them with me||14%|
|Child was ill||12%|
|As a punishment||8%|
|Don’t know/can’t remember||1%|
Parents who leave their children in the car alone often come back to chaotic scenes
The most common mishaps that parents come back to include siblings fighting (15%), children crying (13%), beeping the horn (13%), the car alarm going off (11%), sick to clean up (10%) or even a flat battery from kids messing with the radio (10%).
The research suggests that when parents leave their children they appear to be flipping a coin, with half (50%) likely to be encountering some sort of mishap on their return.
Interestingly, age of parents remains a consistent factor throughout the research.
Respondents over the age 55 reported far lower occurrences of kids making trouble while the adults were gone – in fact 75% said they’d never had a problem, compared to 57% of those between 35-54 and just 23% of young respondents in the 18-34 age bracket.
To get into the data and figures for yourself, simply download the full results here.
Alternatively, if you’d like to speak to one of the Kwik-fit Insurances team about this, or any other upcoming research projects, you can email: .
Kwik Fit Insurance Services have access to a database of a full demographic range of customers. If you’d like to put in a request for research, or would like to work with us on a future project, please contact: .
To get back to our other research pieces, please click here.
*Research conducted by Opinium Research among 2002 UK adults aged 18+ to a nationally representative sample, between 16 – 18 June 2015. *311 out of 2002 respondents, 311 = 16% of all respondents. 16% of ONS UK Pop (50,502,000) = 8,080,320