For example, last summer Ambulance Victoria paramedics rescued an average of four children a day from cars.
To lessen this risk La Trobe student Adrian Clark has invented the Smart Child Car Seat, which he demonstrated to industry partners at the University's end-of-year student engineering exhibition.
The seat incorporates sensors that trigger a car alarm to alert people nearby if a child remains in a car within a certain time after the car has been parked.
After that, it sends messages via mobile phones to parents, carers – and as a last resort to emergency services.
It has two temperatures sensors, inside and outside the car, as well as a location GPS in case the driver is incapacitated or can not be found.
'We have created a dynamic system that can be scaled in response to more life threatening conditions,' Mr Clark said.
More than 1,000 children rescued
La Trobe Professor of Paramedicine, Dr Peter O'Meara, said recent figures show Ambulance Victoria rescues more than 1,000 children from cars per year.
Public information campaigns remind people that even on a moderate day of 25 degrees, internal car temperatures can quickly rise to 45 or 50 degrees.
Children's bodies are far more susceptible to heat stress than an adult's, yet the message is not getting home to many people.
Mr Clark said preparing his business case for the project revealed that it was not only bad or negligent parents who can accidentally leave their children strapped in a car.
Given the amount of information the modern car already generates, he decided this was one critical safety area that had been neglected for far too long.
'Saving just one young life would make this invention worthwhile.'
Eventual required safety feature
He said the system could eventually be a required safety feature for any vehicle fitted with a child seat.
'Like seat belts and airbags, it's an insurance policy that could avoid a tragic situation that you hope will never occur. It could be the difference between a child being found in a hot car before it's too late.'
Mr Clark said the Smart Car Seat was highly unlikely to encourage parents to leave their kids in the car.
'Unless of course they want to be constantly reminded via text messages about how poor their parenting is and of the likelihood that they'll be caught leaving their child unattended in a vehicle – which can attract a $3,690 fine or six months in jail.'
Media contact: Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, M: 0412 261 919