• Hanadi Al Yafei: There is no room for negligence, forgetfulness, or complacency, and I urge everyone to ‘look before you lock’.

Sharjah: The Child Safety Department (CSD) in Sharjah has cautioned parents, teachers, and caregivers against the dangers of leaving children unattended in closed vehicles, particularly during the summer. Conducting the first-of-its-kind social experiment in the UAE titled ‘Look before you lock,’ CSD’s advisory was further justified by the factual results of the severe hazards that leaving children unattended in locked cars can lead to. This includes heightened blood pressure or decreased heart rate in children, dangerous levels of dehydration, and even fatality from prolonged exposure.

The primary objective of the experiment was to enhance awareness surrounding children's physical, mental, and emotional safety, aligning with the department's strategy and the UAE's ongoing efforts to safeguard the well-being of children and the young population. With a meticulously planned approach, the experiment was conducted under the close supervision of a qualified medical team, civil defence specialists, along with dedicated volunteers. To further amplify the impact, social media influencers actively participated and experienced what children left inside closed vehicles during the scorching summer months would go through.

The social experiment
In this 8-hour experiment designed by CSD, in partnership with Sharjah Police and Sharjah Civil Defence, adult participants endured confinement for a period of up to 10 minutes in locked vehicles without air conditioning. While the daytime temperatures averaged between 40-45 degrees Celsius, inside these poorly ventilated cars, temperatures quickly escalated by 20 degrees Celsius in less than 10 minutes.

Most participants reported experiencing distressing symptoms, including dizziness, fatigue, headache, and nausea, coupled with significant decreases in their oxygen levels. These outcomes highlight the grave dangers posed, particularly to children who are exposed to such conditions.

CSD Director: When it comes to child safety, simple warnings are not enough  

Hanadi Al Yafei, Director of CSD, noted: “When it comes to child safety, simple warnings are not enough. We understand the challenges parents and caregivers may encounter in trying to gauge the extent of potential dangers of leaving children unattended in locked vehicles. This approach, grounded in practical evidence and live demonstration of the risks, was, therefore, adopted to clearly drive our point across to the public. During the experiment, participants witnessed firsthand the serious consequences or even fatality their neglectful behaviours can lead to.

Al Yafei further opined that the damage resulting from such incidents may not manifest immediately. However, it can cause permanent psychological harm to the child, leading to feelings of suffocation in enclosed spaces or even living with brain cell damage caused by exposure to extreme temperatures during the incident.

Reflecting on her extremely challenging experience as one of the participants in the experiment, she said: “I gained firsthand insight into the suffering a person will face in such circumstances. There is no room for negligence, forgetfulness, or complacency, and I urge everyone to ‘look before you lock’."

For his part, Captain Saud Al Shaybah, Director of the Awareness and Information Branch at the Traffic and Patrols Department, noted that Sharjah Police's active collaboration in the social experiment aligns with the Ministry of Interior's ongoing efforts to safeguard children in the country. He also noted that due to increasing community awareness, child safety problems have been on the decrease. “Sharjah Police's comprehensive approach includes a strong focus on raising awareness of potential child safety risks and taking proactive steps to prevent them by educating the community alongside correcting any negative behaviours in society.”

The physician in charge of overseeing participant safety emphasised the physiological repercussions of high-temperature exposure. As the body sweats to cool itself in response to elevated temperatures, it loses vital fluids and salts, disrupting the electrochemical balance within cells. Consequently, this process accelerates the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and diminishes oxygen levels in the bloodstream. These adverse reactions can culminate in fainting, and in severe instances, even lead to suffocation and fatality.

The experiment is part of CSD’s ongoing 'Their Safety First' campaign, a comprehensive year-round child safety awareness initiative. An awareness film featuring footage from the experiment was released to guide parents and caregivers, emphasising the importance of avoiding any similar dangers for their children.