Letting Your Child Wait in Car is Abuse or Neglect, New Jersey Court Rules

Readers — On Tuesday a New Jersey state appeals court ruled that a mom who let her 19-month-old wait in the car for 5 to 10 minutes was guilty of abuse. According to this story by Salvador Rizzo in the Star-Ledger:

“A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent’s sight, no matter how briefly,” Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote for the three-judge panel.

He cited the risk of “car theft or kidnapping” and the possibility that “on a hot day, the temperature inside a motor vehicle can quickly spike to dangerously high levels, just as it may rapidly and precipitously dip on a cold night.”

As far as I can tell, the judge did not give any statistics. How could he? Had he or his fellow judges bothered to look at the facts (or remember their own childhoods, when most of us waited in cars), they would have realized the mom had made a completely rational, safe decision based on reality, not delusion.

Let’s consider some facts. Every year, more than 1200 children under age 15 are killed in car accidents. Meantime, about 50 are kidnapped and murdered by strangers (generally not after being snatched from vehicles), and about 35-40 die of overheating in cars, the vast majority after having been forgotten there all day, NOT after waiting out a 10-minute errand.

So as David DeLugas, executive director of the National Association of Parents points out: a child is actually far more safe in car that is NOT MOVING than one that IS.

Of course it would make no sense to arrest any parent who drives a kid anywhere. In fact, it would be nuts! Sure there’s a risk whenever we drive our kids, but it’s small enough that it’s one we rationally take.

So shouldn’t we be allowed to take the even TINIER risk of letting them wait in the car during an errand?

Ernest Landante, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, welcomed the court’s ruling …“Leaving a child alone in a vehicle – even for just a minute – is a bad idea,” Landante said. “Left unattended, a child in a vehicle is vulnerable to abduction and dehydration.”

Dehydration? Over the course of one minute? Can we please base our laws on something remotely resembling earth-bound reality?

The ruling, which can be applied to similar cases from now on, does not specify the age at which it no longer becomes negligent to leave a child in a car. Anyone under 18 is protected by the state child abuse law, but Fisher’s ruling also speaks of the “tender” age of [the defendant] Eleanor’s child.

So, considering the court has ruled that basically anyone under 18 is in danger even for a single MINUTE in a parked car, are we ready to do something about it, and bring attention to the cruelty of treating normal, loving parents like child abusing monsters? If so, would anyone consider joining me for a morning in New Jersey when we’d let our kids wait in the car for 10 minutes? Let me know! – L.

Never? Never ever ever? Even if I rationally, lovingly decide it's safe?

Never? Never ever ever? Even if I rationally, lovingly decide it’s safe?

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118 Responses to Letting Your Child Wait in Car is Abuse or Neglect, New Jersey Court Rules

  1. Gina January 16, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    I am torn about this one, but not because I fear abduction. I think an older child is fine if left for a few minutes, but a toddler, strapped into a carseat on a summer day scares me. Maybe it’s because I live in the desert where a stalled car can fry a child in 10 minutes. Sometimes an errand takes longer than we expect…and a baby with no way out is a scary thought in the desert heat. A child of 5 or 6 would be able to get out of the car or at least open the door and call for help if it gets too hot.

  2. Nebuchadnezzar January 16, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    Psst, Gina … don’t do that, then. Nothing to be torn about.

    Anyway, I’m fast becoming of the opinion that the only way things will change on issues like this is if more people become caught up in the teeth of the machine and see exactly what it’s like. Far too many feel free to approve of BS like this because they’ve convinced themselves that of course THEY’RE good people and THEY never do horrible irresponsible things like leave their 10-year-old in the car for 5 minutes. They do other things, of course, but that’s different. They’re responsible parents. Not the kind that get CPS called on them.

    So I’d advocate for MORE calls to the police/CPS over things like this. You’re not making a false report – you’re reporting a minor left alone in a vehicle. That minor may be 17 but hey the guidelines are a little unclear and it’s better safe than sorry, after all. Apparently there’s zero consequences for people who make these calls so while we’re at it maybe we can call attention to that as well.

  3. J.T. Wenting January 16, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    of course CPS applauds this ruling, it gives them a lot more to do.
    Now they have an excuse to actively prowl parking lots and break open cars to abduct children under the guise of “saving them from abusive parents”.

  4. Alex R. January 17, 2014 at 1:20 am #

    A quick look at http://www.ggweather.com/heat/ (helpfully provided by Melanie Jones a couple weeks back) makes a couple things very clear. First, that there have been 604 deaths of children from heatstroke in cars during the last 14 years. Second, that children six or younger comprised approximately 97% of the deaths in the study. Roughly 85% of these deaths (513 dead kids) were children three years old or younger.

    On the other hand, children seven and over seem relatively immune to heatstroke deaths in a car. The entire group of children 7-14 years old comprised about 3% of all the deaths listed. It’s pretty obvious that young kids can’t be safely left along in a car, while kids over six should be quite safe.

    The heatstroke web page also contains a map, which makes it clear that heatstroke deaths in a car, as one would expect, are mainly confined to the warmer states. (91 in Texas, 65 in Florida, 40 in California, etc. I live in California.)

    Also, per this site: http://www.infohealthz.org/thearticle-Heat-Stroke-Long-Term-Effects.html heatstroke victims frequently suffer some pretty ugly side-effects even if they don’t die:

    Almost a full quarter of the subjects died within the year; most of them within the first three months. All of the remaining survivors suffered some amount of brain and nervous system impairment. Approximately half were diagnosed with kidney problems and blood clots, while 10 percent of the group experienced malfunction of the lungs due to inflammation. After taking into account each subject’s health conditions before hospitalisation, all of these side effects were judged to be a direct result of heat stroke.

    In other words, if your kid gets heatstroke, even if they survive, they might be brain damaged or suffer other permanent side-effects.

    To me, Free-Range parenting is not done for parental convenience.* It’s done because the parent has done a careful risk/reward analysis of the proposed activity and decided that the benefits outweigh the risks to the child. This includes some general ideas about the benefits of unsupervised play, the idea that well-raised children are capable and competent, and that pushing our children to develop life skills is entirely worthwhile even when there are possible risks. It also includes the idea that actual statistics on the real dangers of any activity are readily available. Ultimately, we take slightly higher risks and produce kids who are dramatically more competent and capable.

    From that standpoint, I can’t justify leaving a child of less than six years old in a car alone – the rewards aren’t justified by the risk.

    *Free Fange parenting gives us parental convenience as a happy side-effect, but if you really, really care about convenience, you probably shouldn’t have kids. If you’re being a decent parent, Free Range or otherwise, your kids are a giant (and highly pleasureable) time sink.

  5. Andy January 17, 2014 at 2:56 am #

    @Gina Most of New Jersey, I believe, is not located in desert.

    I mean, I understand your concern about kids left in car if desert. But, we should not assume that kid left in car in New Jersey is subject to desert climate and lack of shadow.

  6. Andy January 17, 2014 at 3:17 am #

    @Alex R. “if you really, really care about convenience, you probably shouldn’t have kids”

    I really really hate hate this kind of thinking. Yes kids are time sink. No, it is perfectly ok to care about convenience and do things as they are practical.

    “we produce kids who are dramatically more competent and capable”

    Honestly, I doubt so. I believe that in average we produce kids that may be somewhat more competent then helicopters parents kids – in some areas of life. Parental risk taking is only one of millions influences that shapes kids.

    I believe that most kids will turn out fine, although some of them will learn certain thing a bit later. Humans are adaptable. After all freerange latchkey kids of previous generation did not turned into careless parents unattached to their kids, they turned into helicopter parents.

    And anyway, we have parental shortcomings too and many of things we take as important may turn out irrelevant later on. We do not even know what kind of society will emerge and whether things we consider important will really turn out to be useful in the long term.

  7. Donna January 17, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    “To me, Free-Range parenting is not done for parental convenience”

    I’ve had enough conversations with Lenore on this exact subject to know that the founder of Free Range parenting disagrees with you 100%.

    Of course, putting your child at risk for parental convenience is wrong, but it is perfectly acceptable to say “there is almost no risk to my child and this is more convenient for me.” In fact, many of my free range choices are based on convenience for me. For example, I frequently leave my daughter home alone when I go to the grocery store. I could wax poetic (and be completely annoying) about how I am seeking to foster her independence when really that is just a positive side effect and my real goal is to get the shopping done with far less time, cost and begging.

    This notion that parents must by martyrs to the cause of raising children is very 21st century and I believe why parents come out as substantially less happy than their childless peers in every measure. Too much pressure and loss of self. I enjoy being a parent. I also do it like a person who didn’t give up being a person when I had a child. Or completely abdicate every want and need that I have. Or let my child consume my every thought. Or never put myself first.

  8. Andrew January 17, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    Well, isn’t it obvious that allowing a 17 year old to drive their own car alone is “child abuse”. Think of the children – anything might happen.

    But seriously, it is rather hard to see this situation as one where the parent was aware of a dangerous situation but “fails adequately to supervise the child or recklessly creates a risk of serious injury to that child”. That unfortunate mother.

  9. Donna January 17, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    Gina – It has been awhile since I lived in Jersey, but I don’t recall it being a desert at the time. I suppose with climate change and all it could have shifted from the Garden State to vast desert wasteland since but something tells me that that would have made the news.

    I also see no indication that this was in summer.

    In other words, different choices are suitable for different places. We can’t say “doing this is would not be safe in Arizona and is therefore not safe in New Jersey.”

    Further, there is a HUGE difference between “not something I would do” and neglect and abuse. Personally, I would never leave a toddler in a car at a strip mall or when I was shopping. Too much risk there for me. At that age, I would leave her in a residential driveway or at a free standing building when I ran in to get something, but nothing that was going to require me to be gone for more than a minute or two. That doesn’t mean that I think that what this woman did was abuse or neglect. It was simply a different parenting choice than I feel comfortable with for my child.

  10. AB January 17, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    @Alex R.

    It’s done because the parent has done a careful risk/reward analysis of the proposed activity and decided that the benefits outweigh the risks to the child…

    From that standpoint, I can’t justify leaving a child of less than six years old in a car alone – the rewards aren’t justified by the risk.

    Okay then, don’t leave your kids alone in the car.

    I, however, have come to a different conclusion and will.

    (See how this whole “freedom to let parents be parents and make rational choices about the safety of their child instead of having self-proclaimed “experts” with dubious statistics dictate what is acceptable or unacceptable in all situations and back those dictates with the power of law enforcement to forcibly tear apart families works?)

  11. Nicole R. January 17, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    This is one that’s always scared me, and not at all because I thought my child was going to be kidnapped, or get overheated, or mess around with the controls. I never left him in the car when he was younger (even though he begged) because I was afraid of some busybody calling CPS! – And I told him exactly why, because I also didn’t want him to think I didn’t trust him.

    As he got older, I gradually let him wait at certain places, but even now (at 13, but he looks younger) there are still a couple of places I won’t let him wait in the car, even though I’ll let him stay home! How ironic is that?

    I think the cutoff of six years old that someone else mentioned makes some sense. I’d also like to see data of kids that come to harm in cars vs. kids who are actually struck by cars (or slip on ice and break a bone or something) while crossing the parking lot. Guess which one I think will be higher.

  12. Jen January 17, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    I actually agree with Gina on this. I live in Southern Arizona, where daytime highs in the summer can reach 115 degrees OUTSIDE. Leaving a child in a car that is not old enough to do anything for themselves can turn into a tragedy in minutes. In this case, the kid was less than 2 years old.

  13. AB January 17, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    Everyone talking about how warm it can get is missing the point:

    No one is advocating leaving your child in a car on a hot day, fer crissakes.

    What is happening in New Jersey is that they now can charge you with child abuse if you leave a child in the car for ten minutes. Cold day, hot day, one of those glorious fall days with highs in the mid-60s, a slight breeze and low humidity… it doesn’t matter. A busybody can call the cops and destroy your family. Your discretion and common sense as a parent is being overridden by a judge who can never know the full circumstances. And in this particular case, the judge has exposed herself to be devoid of any rational understanding of statistics. “There oughtta be a law”-type thinking is destroying families.

    So yes, if you live in a warm climate and it’s hot outside, please don’t leave your kids in the car. We get it. But you’re off topic.

  14. David Pimentel January 17, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    There are a couple of deeply disturbing aspects of this ruling. Of greatest concern is that she was denied a fact-finding hearing. The court ruled that leaving the child unattended was, per se, neglect or abuse, without considering the surrounding factual circumstances. The court chose to speculate about the chances of harm from heat, cold, kidnapping or car theft, deciding the legal issue without a factual foundation. No question that there are circumstances when leaving a child, even for 10 minutes, would create serious risk or danger for the child. The proper legal question is whether, in the totality of the circumstances, this is one of those cases. And the court here not only declined to make such an inquiry in this case, but ruled that such an inquiry is not required in any such cases in the future. Finally, the fact that something is a “bad idea” should not make it legally actionable. Parents, like all people, make mistakes and do dumb things, and most of the time no serious harm comes of it. If we are going to criminalize every dumb mistake, including ones that result in no harm at all, then no one but the infallible should be trusted with kids. For more on this topic, see my articles: “Criminal Child Neglect and the ‘Free Range Kid’: Is Overprotective Parenting the New Standard of Care?” http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=david_pimentel and “Fearing the Bogeyman: How Child Protective Services’ Overreaction to Perceived Danger Threatens Families and Children” http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=david_pimentel.

  15. Warren January 17, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    This will have far reaching effects. Now law in New Jersey, it can be used by other states as an example to get new laws made.

    Some group, someone has to find a way to fight this law. Too obscure, and far too left up to personal interpretation.

  16. Silver Fang January 17, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    This is NJ, where you can’t get eggs sunny side up, pump your own gas or drive without a red sticker of you’re under 21.

  17. Beth January 17, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    The other thing that everyone is forgetting is that the majority of children dying in hot cars have been forgotten by their parent or caregiver, due to a change in routine. The pearl-clutching over “an errand can take longer than expected” is irrelevant, because the parent running the errand KNOWS the child is in the car, and makes decisions (abort the errand, etc) accordingly.

    Also, the majority of the US, and many other countries, is not desert. Using Arizona as a standard for the rest of the world is ridiculous.

  18. GRS January 17, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Would some of David Pimentil’s concerns be a starting point for some kind of appeal to the NJ Supreme Court (or even a federal one)?

  19. Karen January 17, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    I think parents driving while talking on their cell phones cause more of a problem than leaving a child in an unattended car for just a few minutes. How many are guilty of that?

  20. lollipoplover January 17, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    Also in New Jersey you can order traffic studies and cause gridlock on the busiest bridge in the world in mid-September for political paybacks. I hope all those children in carseats stuck in that monster traffic jam had working air conditioning! It can still get into the 90’s in September after all (Indian Summer).
    But abuse is only leaving them ALONE in the car.
    Got it, New Jersey.

    This law is an insult to all of the REAL victims of child abuse.

  21. delurking January 17, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Dear Ms. Skenazy

    If you are going to criticize peoples’ judgment of risk by quantitatively comparing risks, you should not use obviously bad statistics to support your position.

    Comparing the total number of children killed in car accidents to bad things that happen when they are waiting alone in parked cars is irrelevant if you don’t correct for the ratio of the amount of time spent driving to the amount of time spent waiting alone in parked cars. I am quite certain the former is at least 100 times bigger than the latter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is more than 1000 times bigger.

    Furthermore (though this is a smaller distortion), the age distribution of heatstroke deaths is overwhelmingly skewed to younger children, yet you compare to accident deaths which are far more uniformly distributed, thus comparing one danger over a nearly 15-year time frame to another danger over a roughly 6 year time frame.

  22. sue January 17, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    so according to this ruling, if i’m interpreting it correctly, a 16 yearold newly licensed driver sitting in a parking lot can be arested[ or their parents arrested] for leaving a minor child alone in a car. is there any way this ruling can be appealed before it gives other states ideas? i can just imagine my local cps office p***ing all over themselves with glee. oh look we’ll have to hire more people and get a bigger budget to patrol parking lots, think of all the children we’ll save[and families desttroy!] russia and the other communist states seem to be freer then we are, who would want to be a parent when the state or federal government wants to make all the rules and stick the parents with all the liability dor those rules[and costs]. just take egg and sperm samples at puberty, sterlize everyone, test tube the babies and put them out to professional fosterers. sorry i’m so cynical this morning but the continued rulings of this sort, the type that assume parents are brainless idiots who don’t have the first clue, really, REALLY upset me.

  23. SteveS January 17, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Is this going to be appealed the the NJ Supreme Ct.?

    I agree with David. This is very disturbing and seems contrary to other cases that seem to require some proof that the act is dangerous. Hopefully, this can be overturned or the legislature could step in and correct this.

  24. lkrothman January 17, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Alex R. – how many of those children died of heat stroke when the temperature was between 60 & 75 when the car was parked in the shade?

    Deciding something should be illegal because it is dangerous in SOME circumstances is absurd. It’s like saying “jumping off a building is dangerous so let’s make it illegal for children to jump off the 2nd step on a staircase.”

  25. SteveS January 17, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    I would note that other states are not bound in any way by this ruling. While some may get ideas, there is no reason to panic yet if you live outside of NJ.

  26. Max January 17, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    The story states that the car was running. Just leaving an unattended car running is enough to get you a ticket in Ohio!

  27. St. Soldier January 17, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    @alex during that time period, how many times were children left in parked cars and nothing bad happened? Without that information, statistics like “600 children died” mean nothing. It’s called the prosecutors fallacy, look it up.

  28. Gina January 17, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Me culpa…

    I wasn’t clear. I do NOT think this is a police matter. I was just trying to say that there is a difference between leaving a 19-month-old in a carseat and a 6-year-old on the backseat.

  29. CrazyCatLady January 17, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Thank goodness that New Jersey only has full service gas stations. I think of some of my friends, with 5 to 7 kids, and that they would have to get all of the kids out of the car to go pay for gas…because we know that we can’t trust those credit card readers any more. Who wants to be without money for 3 weeks (for food for those kids) while waiting for the bank to straighten things out after paying with credit card like people had happen after Target?

  30. QuicoT January 17, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Memo to Lenore:

    Please please please ask David Pimentel for a guest post on this topic.

  31. Donna January 17, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    @sue – That is not the correct interpretation. Common law (laws that are derived from judicial decisions rather than the plain language of the statute) is extremely fact-specific to the facts of the actual case being considered. Changing the facts, even slightly, can lead to a completely different decision. All that was really decided in this case is that leaving a 19 month old in a car in a strip mall can be considered abuse and/or neglect. Increase the age of the child or change the location and you may get a different result. Would the same court say it was abusive to leave the same child in a car in a driveway? In the country? On the side of a highway while mom is rendering aid to a injured person? How about if the child is now 5? Or 10? Who knows.

    That is not to say that this case is not scary. It is a scary precedent for sure and its language can be used to defend findings of negligence in all those examples. But taking it down the slippery slopes to absurdity involving licensed minors doesn’t get us anywhere.

  32. lollipoplover January 17, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Favorite pearl from David Pimentel article:

    “Indeed, a child who is not being maltreated at home is more than 900 times more likely to be seized by CPS than by a kidnapper. Thus CPS, in the name of child safety, becomes the bogeyman, the child-snatcher parents must fear.”

  33. SKL January 17, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    But it isn’t abuse for the “justice” system to take a child away from its mother for who knows how long?

    People’s stupidity never ceases to astound me.

    Speaking of perils, I don’t mean to offend foster parents, but the statistics for kids “rescued” from “abuse” and placed in foster care are a lot worse than the statistics for kids left in cars for 15 minutes. :/

  34. Havva January 17, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    @ Nicole R.
    You said: “but even now (at 13, but he looks younger) there are still a couple of places I won’t let him wait in the car, even though I’ll let him stay home! How ironic is that?”

    Nicole, you know the situation better than I ever could. So if I don’t get it at all that is fine. But that statement is really sad.

    I was always the short, looks too young kid, and now I am a short looks too young adult. Last time I got mistaken for a lost child I was well into my 20’s. It has been embarrassing and annoying at times. But, it also was never a reason to let the world push me into hiding, nor to let people “protect” me from things I needed no protection. I’ve been dealing with it on my own from the time I was allowed to roam the neighborhood on my own (about 4 or 5), and I have always been able to make it clear that I was not as young as I looked. Having, and unflinchingly utilizing an extensive vocabulary helps;-). So if your son has the maturity, and feels that he could handle cops and busy bodies, should it come to that, I would encourage you to let him. Not only would you and he would be well within your rights. I have faith that if he thinks he could calmly tell the cops that they are mistaken, and assert his right to be left alone, that nothing will come of it should they be called (except I hope some busy-bodies been firmly told they were mistaken, and to stop harassing the young man in the car.)

    My daughter is going to be in the same boat as me, possibly worse, she isn’t on any growth chart. So when she passes the CPS age requirement to be alone in my state. I plan to take her to the DMV and get her a state issued ID card and give her some instructions. To never show it to a busybody, just assert that she is older than she looks and that she (and her parents) are within their rights, and that the individual has no right to detain/harass her. And should police get involved to show the cops her ID along with the CPS pamphlet, and assure the cops that she and her parents are aware of and operating within the CPS guidelines. And then ask if she is free to go. Or if she is being harassed by busybodies and wants to stay (such as if staying in a car, or playing at the park) to tell the officer that she is being harassed, and respectfully request that the cop deal with the person/people harassing her.

    I totally understand the fears of CPS being over-involved, and being annoyed when the ‘guidelines’ are too stringent. But there comes a point when a child shouldn’t have their life crimped for fear of looking to be in violation of a rule or guideline that is specifically directed at younger children.

  35. SKL January 17, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Has any child ever died or suffered serious injury due to being left in a hot car for up to *15 minutes* in New Jersey?

    I understand that errands can sometimes take longer than expected, but when that happens, parents are capable of getting out of line and going back to their car rather than stand there and say, “oh well, I guess my kid is going to expire, nothing I can do about it.”

    Babies forgotten in cars are an entirely different issue. People tend to have sympathy for those who actually forget and the child actually dies. (As do I.) But if you actually made a rational decision that DID NOT HURT your child, you are a criminal.

  36. Steve January 17, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    Lenore, have you ever been called by a Free Range Parent’s attorney in a case like this to be an Expert Witness? You could make a huge difference.

  37. Melanie Jones January 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Alex – I think you have taken a very reasonable look at the statistics and I think that is what we have to do as a country. Everyone has different inclinations toward many issues and the goal in legislation is to make a reasonable compromise. A good example is the legal drinking age. Is there a good reason why driving is allowed (usually)at 16 and drinking at 21? Is there something magic that happens at either age that qualifies a person to perform the task? No. But the laws provide a known guideline that is reasonable enough to follow. The laws are a compromise between many different interested parties. At one point alcohol was outlawed in the US period. People of course, were still drinking. Over time the laws have changed dramatically. Now we tend to prosecute the things that are riskiest about drinking – such as operating a vehicle under the influence. We no longer prosecute the act of drinking, even though there is plenty of evidence that shows there are negative effects on people that drink more frequently. It’s balance. The law is there to protect people from harm but of course true health and safety stems from the individual and the decisions they make.

    Because there is currently no law in my state regarding leaving children in the car, I until visited by CPS used my own rational matrix for determining whether it is necessary or appropriate. There are factors like which children are in the car, their condition (asleep/awake, sick/well, happily playing/fighting), their desire to go in/stay in the car, the proximity of the car to the store, and my degree of control over the errand taking place/ability to walk away, the weather, familiarity with the area, etc. But if there was a law that said, “Children under age 6 can’t be left in the car alone”, then I would follow it. Just like I begrudgingly put my eight year old on a booster seat because it is the law. That is why I was so SHOCKED when my case devolved into such mania when my happy, safe, hydrated children were surrounded by the police after I spent 7 minutes returning a curtain rod. There is no law here in Virginia. I looked it up before ever leaving a child in the car in this state. New Jersey is similar. The judge only ruled on a case and upheld the neglect charge. There still is no law in New Jersey. Technically, a teen driving a car is a child according to New Jersey law. And CPS is mandated to investigate any call they receive. This judge has basically said that he will always side with CPS’s ruling. And “not even a minute” is a ridiculous campaign slogan similar to “this is your brain on drugs” – it is meant to make a point, but it isn’t actually a reasonable guideline and it is especially NOT a law. The judge did not clarify anything, and in fact is not able to legislate. That is up to the NJ legislature. Lenore – I am wondering if we could find a high school in New Jersey and have 200 of their teen drivers sit in their cars at the mall where this happened to make the point, and then have people start making CPS calls. Surely this could be a civics class project…or would that teacher get fired? I am so out of touch. I guess calling CPS to make a point technically is an abuse of the system. That idea needs fleshing out. But do you get where I am going with that?

    Roughly moving along – so my problem is not with laws about leaving children in cars. Bring ’em on! It would give us something to actually tackle head on and talk about. But I really have a problem with these states that have no law on the books and always side with CPS. In my current situation I am in CPS’s system for three years. If ANYONE calls me in, for any reason – my kids are at a huge risk of being taken away from me. I would have never taken the risk of returning a curtain rod had I any inclination that I was putting my kids at risk of losing their parents. Virginia can’t agree on a law which has been entangled in legislature for years, political lobby groups have amped up their emotional but inaccurate YouTube videos that urge people to call authorities any time they see a child unattended in the car, police are mandated reporters, and CPS refuses to provide any age or time guidelines for leaving kids unattended in the car and instead encourages reporting anything you see. So because no one is actually willing to stand up and make a law/guideline or call out the ridiculous mania over something where the statistics are so clear, people like me get caught up in this system. It is a real problem.

    Alex, you say you could never leave a child under 6 alone in the car because 97% of the deaths were in children under 6. Well, 96% of the deaths are in children under 5. And I feel my five year old has demonstrated that she is capable of understanding the rules about staying in the car within the constraints I place on that situation (time/proximity/condition/etc.) Is that one percent difference, in your mind, the difference between me deserving to have my kids taken away? 93% are in kids 4 and under. Should parents that leave a four year old have their kids taken away over a difference of 3 percentage points? What about 3 and under – as you stated still 85% are in children three and under. Is 85% on a risk that is already incredibly, infinitesimally small a rational choice for a parent to make? Or how about when my kids are 1 and I am unloading groceries out of my car. Fully half of the children dying of heat stroke are 1 and under because their bodies are less capable of temperature regulation. And yet…while I unload my groceries, the child will be unattended for my 2 to 3 trips between the minivan and kitchen. Are they safer unattended in their five point harness in the car which they cannot unbuckle by themselves, or are they safer unattended in the house? Should my children be taken away by CPS if I leave them buckled in the harness but not if I put them in the crib inside where they manage to entangle a limb or suffocate or whatever risk you can imagine that has a similar likelihood of occurring as if they were buckled in their harness for an additional 10 minutes of unloading (not putting away, mind you – just unloading). I have more questions. Some states have laws where time is a factor. I personally am a huge fan of those because I seriously cannot imagine after having three kids that you would literally NEVER leave a child unattended in the car. Are they attended if you are pumping gas in your car? When you have three kids all buckled up on the way to violin lessons and realize you left a violin by the front door does everyone have to get out and then repeat the process for that 30 seconds worth of running in and out? It’s difficult to know exactly how long each child that dies of heatstroke spends in a car, but the statistics do show that fully 81% of those 605 kids were forgotten by a parent or playing unattended in the vehicle – as in, their parents didn’t even know/remember they were in the car. Only 18% – a little more than 100 of the kids – were left intentionally by a parent. To put that in perspective – only SEVEN kids a year on average are dying of heat stroke when intentionally left by a parent running an errand. So in general, this activity of intentionally leaving your child to sit based on a rational choice is a pretty safe bet. Parents are doing a pretty good job of it without legal intervention. That’s why vehicle heat stroke death in children was SO INCREDIBLY RARE when we were kids being left in the car by our moms – they didn’t have back seat car seats to forget us in when we were babies.

    In summary:

    1) People who want to save kids from dying of heatstroke in cars should be focused on alarm systems that remind parents that a child has been forgotten in the back seat. That is why our babies are dying in hot cars. And it seriously should be a preventable problem. Let’s innovate! Almost 16 years have passed since we saw this spike in deaths that is absolutely correlated to the move to back seat car seats. This is America, this is a problem that we can address through technology and innovation.

    2) If you are inclined toward having a law that protects these seven kids a year that are intentionally left in a car each year to never exit it, then please please push for it. The “let CPS decide”/busybody system puts hundreds of kids at risk of being separated from happy and healthy families, and is an unnecessary burden on taxpayers due to the increased volume of calls CPS is required to check up on. An imperfect law that we all know about is better than an invisible code of justice that strips parents of their legal rights almost entirely.

    3) If you think that no one would ever call the cops on you because you are an awesome parent, you are wrong. You have two choices. Never – and I mean never never ever – leave your child in a car unattended, or you can stand up and fight for fairness in legislation around this issue so that your children, their friends, and someday their kids can be safer. I say safer, because I know my kids are safer when they are cared for in my home instead of becoming wards of the state.

    4) For those of you that would never leave a child in the car, or never leave a 4 year old in the car, or never leave a child in the car for more than 3 minutes if the weather is 60 degrees but 8 minutes if it is 55…realize that these small distinctions don’t have a significant impact on the statistics. You may disagree with parents that do otherwise, but do you think their families should be ripped apart? That is the true question. I don’t believe children under 8 should have their ears pierced. I don’t believe children should watch Sponge Bob. I don’t let my kids drink soda. I don’t allow my children on bounce houses. But lucky for you, I am only raising my children, not yours.

  38. SKL January 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    I don’t see how a car is different from a crib, except for the heat factor, which is only a factor under certain conditions.

    Babies have been stolen from cribs.
    Many babies can’t get themselves out of a crib.
    Sometimes moms are delayed a bit from getting back to the cribside.
    Sometimes disaster happens in a house and it’s not possible to get to the crib to save the baby in time.
    Sometimes babies choke etc. in cribs.

    So it should be illegal to leave a baby in a crib out of the line of sight. Even for one minute!

    Or, maybe courts should take other factors into account, such as, was the child in the car ever in actual danger? And I mean the danger of overheating. The miniscule danger of being snatched is there even if a mom is carrying the baby or sitting him/her in a cart.

    I never left my kids at that age in the car to run an errand, because they would have had a hissy fit. That’s probably why it isn’t a very common practice as far as I know. Just because I didn’t do it doesn’t mean nobody can.

  39. Michael F January 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    I recently got this from our son’s pre-School, as part of a longer letter about winter conditions and dressing kids up from school.

    “I know that having to bring your children to their classroom or to meet them at the end of the day often means that many of you have to get your younger child out of the warm car. But I need to remind you that leaving a child in a car unattended for any period of time is against the law. You might consider carpooling with other parents to cut down on the trips in and out of the car each of you would need to make in a week.”

    I didn’t know Massachusetts had such a law, I will have to check. Considering how busy and over-scheduled most families are I wonder if that carpooling trick really works with pre-School.

  40. Donna January 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Melanie Jones – The reason that there aren’t defined laws is that children and circumstances vary. The reason that we don’t want defined laws is that children vary widely and laws will be written for the lowest common denominator, not the average Joes and Janes. We won’t see “children under 6 cannot stay in a car alone.” We will see “children under 13 cannot stay in the car alone.”

    Take your alcohol example. 21 is the absolute highest legal drinking age in the world. We are one of only 12 countries world-wide with a drinking age of over 18 (with many of them not prosecuting underage drinking anyway) and, along with Iceland, the only ones in the Western world.

    Does that really bode well for us in any fashion when it comes to laws specifying ages to do things?

  41. SKL January 17, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    Michael F, I got a similar letter when my kids were in preschool, except that it was from the local cops. My research showed that it was not in fact illegal to leave a child in a car UNLESS there is some dangerous condition. So I don’t know what I’d do with such a letter. My kids were in the same class, so it wasn’t an issue for me unless I was keeping one kid home sick. At that point, I would do whatever felt right at the time, because it was unlikely I’d get “caught” anyway. But there were families that had good reasons to leave a kid buckled in the car for a couple of minutes while leading their other kid(s) to/from the car. It’s not like people are going to forget their kids in the hot sun while at dropoff/pickup. I would bet money that no child has ever been hurt or killed in that scenario. So why are the cops bothering us? I can only assume that some busybody has been calling the cops on people who do this. “For the sake of the children.” Blah.

  42. Havva January 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    @ Melanie Jones, There are CPS guidelines in many counties in Virgina. CPS appears to be state supervised, county run in Virginia. Granted, the ages of your children would have caused you trouble in those with guidelines.

    But at any rate here are links to a few, Fairfax county being the most relaxed (aka sane).

    Prince William county notes these age suggestions exist but provides only the reminders that go with those age guidelines. Namely that those aren’t a free pass and provides some guidelines on child knowledge/behavior.

    Supposedly teams of experts came up with those guidelines. And I would like to see, for cases involving older children, and unclear laws, for people to bring in the Fairfax County experts as Expert Witnesses, to put an end to the harassment of families making perfectly conservative parenting decisions such as letting an 8 & 11 year old go a few blocks to buy pizza.

    More specifically in your case Melanie, I think if you and your oldest were in a mood to fight back (and I totally understand if neither of you are under the circumstances). I think it would be interesting to bring in the Fairfax CPS experts and ask how those guidelines could possibly be insufficient, in a county of the state which lacks its own guidelines, seeing as they are published for the public to see by a state supervised CPS.

  43. Havva January 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    The cops handed out letters claiming that something is illegal, that is really only sometimes illegal? That seems like a time to call their chief, and say that you were shocked to see that one (or more) of their own was passing out miss information about the law (presumably) on police department letterhead. Or if the chief is likewise ill-informed, call the news.

    You don’t even have to argue with the ‘safety experts’ to argue that one.

    Obviously I’m in a feisty mood today.

  44. Suzanne January 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    I think leaving a toddler in a car seat can be a problem. An older child can leave the car if there’s a problem, defend themselves somewhat (e.g. lock the doors, jump out the car) but toddlers have no protection.

    That’s not to say that EVERY instance of leaving a baby in the car is wrong– I mean if you’re just two steps from the car, it makes no sense. But it’s problematic. Toddlers have no judgement.

  45. lollipoplover January 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    The “NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD ALONE” sign is so ridiculous it needs to have this along side of it:


  46. SKL January 17, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Suzanne – “Toddlers have no judgment.” Yeah, that’s why they are safer strapped in a car seat than free to leave the car.

    Where did people get this idea that the instant a baby is left alone, all kinds of horrible things are going to happen – but only if he’s not in his crib?

    When my kid was around that age, I was reaching into a cooler at the grocery store, and someone tapped me and said, “your kid is standing up [on the seat of the cart].” That wasn’t so safe either, but I hope nobody wants my kid taken away because she did something unexpected in the blink of an eye.

    Honestly, this “anything can happen” stuff is crazy. Of course anything “can” happen, anywhere. It isn’t 1000x more likely to happen because the mom has taken her eye off her kid for 10 minutes.

    Every time my kids got hurt as tots, I was always right there and I still couldn’t do anything about it. And if they’d been strapped in their car seats at that moment, those injuries would *not* have happened.

  47. SKL January 17, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    But watch, the next child who is forgotten in the car all day and dies is going to be blamed on FRK.

  48. Bob Cavanaugh January 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    Since I don’t have kids of my own yet, I don’t really have strong feelings about leaving kids in cars, but when I do become a parent someday, I think I’ll try to be as close to my parents as possible. I understand that people can be charged for calling 911 if the police determine that they are abusing the system. Thankfully, here in the NW, that doesn’t seem to be a huge problem, but why aren’t these people being charged with abuse of the 911 system if the cops show up and find there is nothing wrong?

  49. anonymous mom January 17, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    I think leaving a child alone in the car is a judgement call, obviously. I would have no problem leaving my 9yo in the car either alone or while supervising his two younger siblings. I would not leave my other two (2 and 3) in the car alone, under most circumstances. Both can unbuckle their car seats and my 3yo can unlock and open her car door (and my little one could probably figure it out), and my concern would be that they’d get out of the car and wander into a busy parking lot, which would actually be dangerous. If they had just fallen asleep and I knew they’d be asleep for a while, and it was a very short errand, I’d be far more inclined to leave them in the car.

    However, the heat stroke issue is really not relevant to most of the country most of the year. I do understand, absolutely, that people in desert are very sensitive about this, and in states like AZ it’s absolutely something to be concerned about. Where I am, in Michigan, we have just a handful of days during the year where the car could become dangerously hot in just a few minutes. The vast majority of the time, there is absolutely no danger of heatstroke. There may be other reasons to not leave a child in the car–like I just said, while I wouldn’t worry about heatstroke or abductions, I’d be concerned about one of my kids leaving the car and wandering into the parking lot–a child simply can’t die of heatstroke in a car unless the temperature is high enough, and to make deaths due to heatstroke a rationale for making it illegal to EVER leave kids in the car seems to be a stretch.

  50. Chihiro January 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    Under 18? Are you kidding me?! I mean, I don’t think little babies and toddlers should be left alone, not because they might get kidnapped but because of the risk of overheating/freezing. (the temperatures here in Minnesota are literally always either unbearably hot or extremely cold, so I have no way to judge if this mythological ‘temperate weather’ would be alright) But by the time they’re old enough to get themselves out of the car if they’re too hot/cold, (or maybe adjust the temperature if the car is left running) then fine!

    And are they taking into consideration that some kids protected by this law are old enough to drive on their own? So what? They’re not allowed to be in their car alone? Or maybe they only are when they’re driving it, if they have to stop the car then an adult has to get in with them. Or does it not apply to cars they drive?

  51. Emily January 17, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    Wow. I leave my four kids (ages 8, 6, 5, and 6months) in the car for 10 minutes rather frequently. It is SO much quicker to just run in and run out, and they prefer it because they’d rather keep playing their games or reading their books in the car!

  52. Buffy January 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    “the risk of overheating/freezing”

    I have to say, I’m getting tired of reading these “but the weather!” alerts. There is not an epidemic of kids dying, or even suffering life-threatening complications from overheating or freezing in vehicles while Mom runs to an ATM, pays for gas, or picks up a gallon of milk….there’s just not.

    However, I haven’t lived in a whole lot of places, so I’m unaware of the apparently many, many locations in the US where the climate changes so dramatically in 5 minutes that everyone unprepared for the change is in danger. Or…could this be a “worst first” assumption and most climates aren’t like that at all?

  53. Merrick January 17, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    My solution to this problem was… to wait in the car myself and send the kid (of appropriate age) in to pay for gas, pick up dry cleaning, etc.

  54. Gary January 17, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    I love my state…


  55. Reziac January 17, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    Donna says

    “This notion that parents must by martyrs to the cause of raising children is very 21st century and I believe why parents come out as substantially less happy than their childless peers in every measure. Too much pressure and loss of self.”

    Precisely, and the same applies to their children. Too much pressure and too much loss of self.

    The notions that kids are unsafe if left unattended for even a moment, and that kids must have some planned activity every moment of every day, are really the SAME problem, and differ only in degree.

  56. Reziac January 17, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    Buffy says,

    “I’m unaware of the apparently many, many locations in the US where the climate changes so dramatically in 5 minutes that everyone unprepared for the change is in danger. Or…could this be a “worst first” assumption and most climates aren’t like that at all?”

    Our Montana state motto should be “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, it’ll change” —
    But there’s still no rash of KIDS dying.

    Who does die? there was an incident in South Dakota some decades ago where a nice fall day turned to a blizzard, and some 65 hunters died — all adult males who’d, bluntly, been stupid enough to go hunting in the boonies, in November, without so much as a jacket.

    I think what’s really happened is somewhere in the past generation, we’ve somehow grown a mindset that’s so dim it can’t remember that summer is hot and winter is cold, and therefore believes NO ONE is able to plan accordingly. :(

  57. Emma January 17, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    I am all for free range parenting but only an idiot would leave a baby alone in a car for any length of time.

  58. Backroads January 18, 2014 at 12:53 am #

    I’m struggling with this.

    I think we all agree one should not leave a child in the car if common sense and parental judgment deems it a bad idea (those two terms being what they are). There’s a spectrum of our opinions, of course.

    But what scares me about this law is the near impossibility to enforce!

    From what I understand, most cases of child-left-in-a-car deaths are total accidents where the child was forgotten.

    So we make a law that might irritate, inconvenience, and maybe even stop some people from doing stupid things.

    But will it prevent accidental deaths? Nope.

  59. Warren January 18, 2014 at 2:09 am #

    So never huh?

    1. Can’t put him/her in car, and then return grocery cart?
    2. Can’t leave him/her in car, while I pay for gas?
    3. Not while picking up take out dinner?
    4. Not while I drop a letter in the mailbox?

    All of these acts take less than 5 mins. Emma you would be surprised how long/what can be done in 5 mins. I routinely put old coffee in the microwave, and hit the one minute button, then leave and do a couple of things around the office, only to be surprised that they took me less than a minute to do.

  60. anonymous this time January 18, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    “Anything could happen.”

    And what’s first on the list? Abduction.

    And what’s cited in this case? The “bad” location of the vehicle.

    Somebody, please come up with the list of cases of babies, toddlers, and children under 12 who have been abducted from a car by someone unknown to them.

    Is it more children than have been “stolen” by “strangers” from their own beds in their own homes sleeping mere feet from their parents?

    Doubt it.

    Rulings such as this serve NO PURPOSE in the pursuit of safety for kids. In fact, I know that for myself, as a parent, trying to bob and weave through the gauntlet of possible “offences” that could warrant CPS’s scrutiny is so stressful at times that I’ve actually lost it with my kids, a rage and frustration brought on by the stress of trying to conform to truly impossible, ridiculous, illogical, paranoid “standards” of care.

    My own mother just doesn’t believe what I’m saying about how bad it is now, how lay people are now “police” looking for every possible “slip” that a parent might make that could be “endangering” their child.

    I’ll have to link her to this ruling. Then she’ll get it.

  61. anonymous this time January 18, 2014 at 2:26 am #

    In 2009, when this incident occurred, CPS sought to remove this woman’s children to foster care. They didn’t succeed.



    Because “anything could have happened”?

    Well, anything happened to a woman in my town who was HOLDING HANDS WITH HER YOUNG CHILD ON THE SIDEWALK and a semi truck took the corner too tight and the back wheels under the trailer smushed the kid.

    Clearly, the woman should have known better than to walk with her kid down the sidewalk. I mean, anything could happen. Anything freaking did.

    I feel a little bit hysterical about this case. And I also ask again: if it’s not too hot to leave a kid in a car WITH THE WINDOWS DOWN, but it’s too hot to leave a kid in the car with the doors locked and the windows up UNLESS THE CAR IS RUNNING AND THE A/C IS ON, why in God’s name are people locking the kids into cars with the ENGINE RUNNING? STOP LEAVING THE FREAKING ENGINE ON. And if it’s too cold to leave the kids in the car with the windows up, well, I don’t know. Don’t they have coats on? There’s no windchill inside a car. My guess is they can survive a milk run.

    Where I live, it’s illegal to let your car idle. If you’re not moving, the car must be turned OFF.

    Kids be damned!

  62. Rachael January 18, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    It is the vagueness of this one that has me worried. They need to define the ‘tender age’ and refine ‘alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent’s sight’. I mean, if I get out of my car, close the door and turn my head (…or blink), technically, my child is alone in a motor vehicle, out of my sight. Even if I am standing next to or touching the car.

    What if you’re running an errand in a shop with parking right in front of the door and huge windows, you can see the car the whole time… what would they do with that one I wonder?

  63. Taradlion January 18, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    The last few days in NYC, CPS has been the news…a 4 year old died in the care of his father’s girlfriend while his father was incarcerated. There seems to be evidence the child was beaten, burned, and malnourished (based on autopsy). Apparently, CPS (well ACS here) visited 9 times in the last year or so. NINE times….and yet, cops are being called about kids in cars in Jersey (not Arizona) and a kid that “looked cold” while with her parents?

    It doesn’t apply to toddlers, but “things have changed”…windows (in most cars) can not be rolled down when the car is off….not to mention, parents are afraid to leave their kids in cars that are not locked up and alarmed for fear or abduction or car jacking….

  64. Ben January 18, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Leaving a kid alone in a car in a neighbourhood that is known for its high crime rate is irresponsible. Nowhere did I see the part of town specified as high crime…

    Leaving a kid in a closed off car on a hot day is a bad idea, but nowhere have I seen mention of the weather on this particular day.

    I wish I had the whole story, but those two are the only exceptions I can think off. Anything else and the parents shouldn’t be persecuted for leaving their kids for a couple of minutes.

  65. pentamom January 18, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    Reziac, we have the same saying here in Northwestern PA, but it’s really just a joke about how variable the weather is. I know you didn’t mean it seriously, either but it’s really not like the weather changes so much in five minutes that anyone is in actual DANGER.

  66. JND January 18, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    I say it’s child abuse to raise the child in New Jersey.

  67. SKL January 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    In most states, the law on this always takes conditions into account. If you left your baby in the car on a day when it was hot and sunny and you were gone long enough for him to get hurt, then yeah, you screwed up and I could get behind whoever wants to interfere with your parenting. But the law would be on your side if the conditions were safe for a child sitting in a car.

    That’s supposed to be how it is in my state / locality. That didn’t stop a busybody from calling on me when I left my two second-graders in the car at sunset for 3 minutes. And the cops came. I drove away, confident that I hadn’t broken any laws, but still not sure whether the cop would try to chase me down or show up at my doorstep with CPS.

  68. L0ne Ranger January 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    While I can certainly understand the part about not leaving a child unattended in a car, why do we treat illegal aliens differently?

    Just consider how many children are smuggled each and every day across our international borders by their parents or smugglers. Do we call for prosecution of these people that subject these children to walking in a desert at night, without any lighting, with plenty of venomous snakes. Joining groups of other illegals, who the parent doesn’t know their backgrounds. Putting them in cars and trucks, often in the trunk or the open back of an overloaded pickup. Relying on the criminal driver not to evade apprehension by law enforcement, by engaging in dangerous car chases.

    These things do go on all the time and the best we Americans can do is ignore this dangerous behavior, but not hesitating to go after our own Americans???

  69. Ann January 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    While a 19 month old wouldn’t come to any harm for 5 or so minutes, you never know with a lot of clueless parents who would be gone for a LOT more than 5 minutes. So I’d say, no, no leaving a baby alone in a car. However, it’d be crazy to say no child ever can be left alone! When I’m out running errands I often leave my 10 year old (and when he was younger as well) in the car happily playing his handheld game. He doesn’t WANT to come in with me to the post office or wherever!

  70. Papilio January 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    @delurking: Yes, purely for the chance it’s not a relevant comparison.
    However, you could also reason that it’s better to direct this obsessive-compulsive child rescue energy toward improving traffic safety instead of bothering parents who leave their kids in the car for a few minutes.

  71. bmommyx2 January 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    I hope she appeals & wins, this is just ridiculous & the judge has no sense.

  72. Emily January 18, 2014 at 10:50 pm #

    @Emma–I agree with Warren. Five minutes isn’t that long, and anyway, assuming the weather is reasonable (not boiling hot or freezing cold), I think it’d be safer to leave a baby strapped in a car seat, than an older child who could move the gear shift lever and accidentally roll the car into a ditch (like I did once when I was maybe six). Locking the car is probably enough to protect the child against potential kidnappers–I mean, who would really smash a car window, just to steal someone else’s child? Even if someone did that, then the car alarm would go off, and they wouldn’t get very far.

  73. SKL January 18, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    “you never know with a lot of clueless parents who would be gone for a LOT more than 5 minutes. So I’d say, no, no leaving a baby alone in a car.”

    You never know with a lot of clueless parents who would starve their kids in their homes, or beat them, or not bother to wash them or send them to school. So why do we let parents alone in the house with their kids? Why do we leave nutrition up to parents? You never know. We’d better make a law that says it is illegal to leave a kid in a crib (even for a minute), because you never know with a lot of clueless parents who would never bother to come back and get the kid and feed him or change his diaper. I mean, it’s been known to happen. Never leave a child in a crib! What kind of idiot parent would do that?

  74. Jen January 19, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    i do find it scarey that the judge made a ruling seemingly without citing facts…hower, i am also hesitant to form an opinion here — because I do not know all the facts. I was more inclined to leave my daughter in the car for a quick errand when she was smaller — strapped into a 5 point harness that she could not get out of, with the doors locked and where I could easily see the car than I was when she was a little older and I wasn’t positive that she would stay put. Since she has been about 6, i have left her alone for short periods of time while running an errand. I am certain that if she got too warm she could open the door and, if necessary, navigate her way into the store/gas station to find me. She does know that if approached, she is not to open the door for anyone, not even the police, but to tell them, “my mom will be right out.” You see, I trust my daughter (and when I don’t feel I can, or when i don’t feel it’s safe, I don’t leave her) but I do not trust folks who have bought into the hysteria that children are not safe, even for a minute, without adult supervision.

  75. Tsu Dho Nimh January 19, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    The recent pennsylvania voting ID lae rejection had an interesting idea from that judge.

    Fear that something bad MIGHT happen (in this case, people voting in person pretending to be someone else) is not sufficient cause to get all draconian about trying to prevent the imaginary harm.

    Like Gina, I’m “twitchy” about children left in cars because of the heat aorund here, BUT the outdoor temp and circumstances are relevant. I walked past several parksed cars a couple of weeks ago that had snoozing toddlers in them, and felt nary a twitch. It was 25F outside with a stiff breeze and the toddlers were in a nice sun-warmed car, out of the wind.

    But, that takes judgement, something the 1-size-fits-all, zero-tolrerance rules can’t handle.

  76. In the Trenches January 19, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Isn’t there some sort of mechanism in place to protect people against stupid laws? I think of poor Sally Clark, the former solicitor who was wrongfully convicted of killing her kids because of people’s inability to understand statistics, combined with a mentality of utter fear and suspicion when kids’ safety is concerned. Why can there not be someone appointed by the courts as a statistician, to check the claims made by prosecutors? Or a logician, who can parse the arguments and get nonsense or fallacies struck from the record? I realise that’s part of the defence attorney’s job, but it seems that there should be some kind of independent, mechanised, systemic safety system in place. In Sally Clark’s case, she never recovered from her ordeal, and had her mental health and her life irrevocably destroyed, dying of alcohol poisoning instead of being supported and shown compassion by her community after the death of two of her children.

  77. Lillian January 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    I still try to figure this out- at one point, I had to take two babies (18 months apart) into the house plus groceries on a regular basis. No attached garage. Groceries take 3-4 trips.

    I’d leave them in the car, more often than not, as I walked back and forth. I might even go to the bathroom. I’m pretty sure that would count as leaving them unattended. Anyway, after all the groceries were in, I’d bring them in and hope no one woke up, so I could put away the groceries while they were still cold.

    I pretty firmly believe that was the safer option. Two toddlers unsupervised in a house is less safe, to me, than two toddlers securely strapped to their seats and sleeping in the car. I also pretty firmly believe that walking into the gas station without them would have been safer- but I never did, because I was paranoid. However, walking through a busy gas station parking lot with two tots is far from safe, especially when one is a runner.

  78. SKL January 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    It seems to me that since babies are much more likely to die of heatstroke because of being forgotten in cars (vs. intentionally left for a little while), it should be illegal to place babies and young children in cars at all. If nobody ever placed their baby in a car, then nobody would ever forget their baby in a car. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Because ‘you never know with a lot of clueless parents….’

    That would solve a lot of problems, actually, since no babies would die as passengers in car accidents either. No need to fuss over the right kind of car seat installed and used exactly the right way, keeping the kids rear-facing until they get their driving permits, etc.

  79. hineata January 19, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    Whenever I see rubbish like this I’m tempted to send the judges a link to the Auckland case a few years ago where three children would have died had they not been left by their mother alone and strapped into the car. A tornado swept through the carpark, lifting the car something like a hundred feet in the air and dumping it. The kids were shook up but fine. Given the timing of the event, had Mum taken the time to attempt to take all the kids out of the car they all would have been in the open when the tornado appeared, and no longer with us today. (Tornadoes are very rare here, and there was no warning of this event). The police, incidentally, made no comment about this mum’s ‘neglect’ -everyone being grateful that the kids were safe :-).

    @Reziac, loved your 5 minute analogy. We have ‘four seasons in one day’, and the sometimes 15 minute change around – from sunny, cricket playing weather to freezing cold, trees being uprooted and roofing iron taking off into the sunset. That’s why it’s a good idea to have at least a light windbreaker with you all the time .Very very rarely people die as a result of this changeability. But never toddlers strapped safely in cars….

  80. Andy January 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    @Ann What about making it illegal to leave baby in car for a LOT more then 5 minutes? If you are worried about babies being there for long. Making x illegal just because you worry about 20*x may make some prosecutors life easier, but does not lead to good legislature.

    We should not criminalize more then necessary and we should not take kids away from families more then necessary. After all, parents leaving kids in cars for short time still have better results in raising kids then institutions.

  81. Emily Guy Birken January 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    Let’s also not forget that even if leaving your kid in the car is a bad judgment call (and the controversy in these comments certainly shows that there are varying opinions on that), it should not be a crime to make a minor parenting mistake, particularly when no one is hurt by it.

    I’ve left my babies in the car while running a quick errand, while paying for gas, and while my car was out of my sight for a moment or two. Every single time, I wondered if I was making the right call. In at least one case, I’m still not sure if I should have done so or not (my then 9-month old badly needed sleep and he slept through my errand, but my very quick in-and-out errand took closer to 10 minutes to complete and I could not see the car from where I was). I make a judgment call each time, and I’m wiling to admit that I might have been and might be wrong. But making a bad call does not make me a bad mother, a neglectful mother, or an abusive mother.

    Basically, whether you are concerned about the specifics of leaving a kid in a car or not, we need to make certain that we’re not criminalizing parental judgment.

  82. sam January 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    So you take the kid into the mall with you, and some nut with a gun decides to shoot the place up. Wouldn’t the kid be safer in the car?

  83. SKL January 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Oh, and some states will only prosecute a parent for leaving a kid in a car IF conditions made it unsafe AND there was actual harm done to the child. At least, that is what the letter of the law says. Imagine that, only disrupting a child’s life IF his parents have hurt him!? Not a bad concept if you ask me.

  84. Nicole R. January 19, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    @ Hawa – Thank you for the polite way you responded to my post, even though you felt differently. In this case, it IS about my son’s specific comfort level. (I know an inquiry would bother him far more than tagging along with me at those couple of places.) But should we reach the point of needing it, I really appreciate the info about a state-issued ID card. I didn’t think of that as an option, and it makes a lot of sense.

  85. SOA January 19, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    There is middle ground. Leaving them in there while you get gas or return a shopping cart for example is fine. Especially for kids that are old enough to know to stay in the car and can get in and out if they need to.

    But leaving a small child in a car while you get your nails done where you can’t even see the car for example is a whole different story. Or the idiots that let their kids cook in a hot car or freeze in a cold car.

  86. Reziac January 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    The salient point from David Pimental’s article, http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=david_pimentel

    “Indeed, a child who is not being maltreated at home is more than 900 times more likely to be seized by CPS than by a kidnapper. Thus CPS, in the name of child safety, becomes the bogeyman, the child-snatcher parents must fear.”

  87. Jessica January 19, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    I just had this conversation with my 8 year old yesterday. Our state (TN) says children over 7 can be left in cars assuming their “health and safety” aren’t at risk. How subjective is that??
    I was running multiple errands and he really didn’t want to get in and out of the car. My last stop was the liquor store and he begged to stay in the car. I told him he was old enough to do so, that I trusted him but unfortunately there are nosy people who don’t know that he’s old enough to be allowed to stay in the car. I could just see the headline “Single mother leaves child in car while buying booze”. *sigh*
    Instead, I dragged him and his younger brother into a building full of expensive breakable bottles.
    It drives me bonkers that my fear of nosy people causing trouble influences my decisions, when I know for certain my kid is sufficiently mature to handle something.

  88. Beth January 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Dolly, you’re aware that the majority of children dying in cars are because they were forgotten due to a drastic change in routine, right?

    I’m sure bereaved and grieving guilt-ridden parents appreciate your characterizing them as idiots.

  89. SOA January 19, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    I stand by my statement. I don’t see how anyone could forget they had their kid with them and leave them in a car all day long. Especially when there are easy systems to prevent that. It is all over the news there are things to prevent it like leave your purse in the back seat so you have to see the kid when getting your purse out or having a stuffed animal to move from the car seat to the front seat so you will see the stuffed animal and know the kid is in the seat.

    If a parent chooses not to be smart and utilize fail safes then I absolutely will judge them for such a mistake. I don’t even use those and never have even come close to forgetting they are in the car with me no matter what the routine is.

  90. SOA January 19, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    It is actually probably SAFER to leave a kid in a car now while you run into the store to get groceries. Leave the cell phone with the kid and if someone tries to mess with them they can call 911 or call the store and have you paged to come out to the car. Hell most kids have their own cell phones they can just call the parent on.

    My mom frequently let me stay in the car and read a book or listen to the radio while she ran in starting at about age 8 or 9. I knew to keep the doors and windows locked and not to mess with the ignition or the gear shift. If it was hot or cold I just ran the AC/heater. It was fine. I even would stay in the car and supervise her daycare kids while she ran in somewhere when I was like 10 and older GASP!

    I am all about the sending the kids in to pay for the gas or little things once they are old enough to handle it and I will just sit in the car. I had my friend’s little girl who is almost 11 with me and it was nice handing her some cash and telling her to run into the bakery for me and get some cupcakes. I just sat in the car with my kids and let her handle it.

  91. Warren January 20, 2014 at 2:52 am #

    Well I am going to be the Devil, on this one.

    These parents that “forget” their child in the car, to the point of death…………it ain’t no accident folks. It is intentional, pure and simple.

    Whether it is due to pure murderous intention, mental or emotional problems it doesn’t matter. The only way anyone goes to work and leaves their child in a locked sealed vehicle is on purpose.

  92. Donna January 20, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    I thought people who left their children in the car were crazy too until the most admirable person that I know almost did it one day. If I was ever asked the person who most closely exemplifies the potential goodness in people, THIS would be without hesitation the person I would pick. I have never met anyone who knows her who doesn’t think that she is an outstanding person.

    But even the most organized, responsible, loving human beings are just human beings and human beings are 100% creatures of habit. She never takes T (a child to whom she has no legal or moral obligation but that she is raising) to school. Her husband does it. When T was in preschool, the school was on her way to work but she never took him for timing reasons. One morning hubby had a meeting and she had to take T to school. She loads him in the car and drives off … to work. She got on her usual route to work and zoned out as we do, completely forgetting T was in the car. Luckily T was 4 and wide awake so no harm came of it, but you change that to a sleeping baby and you likely have a dead baby.

  93. SOA January 20, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    I also have wondered sometimes if the parents that leave the kids in the car all day to cook are not doing it intentionally. I mean think about it. It is a fool proof way to murder your child and get away with it and not only get away with it but get sympathy and love and support from people.

    If someone is a good responsible person they would know to put fail safes in place when they have a change in routine to not forget the child. It takes no more effort to put your purse in the back seat of the car or wallet. So no, only irresponsible people would almost forget or forget their child is in the car.

  94. Donna January 20, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    “It is a fool proof way to murder your child and get away with it and not only get away with it but get sympathy and love and support from people.”

    I have no idea what you are talking about here. Every case of a child being left in the car and dying that I am aware of has resulted in prosecution and conviction for manslaughter at the very least and years in prison. EVERY.SINGLE.CASE! This is not a get-out-of jail free card. I’ve seen no great moments of sympathy for the parents. In fact, I’ve seen nothing but insistence about what horrible parents they are because we have to believe that they are horrible people or accept that this could happen to us.

    “If someone is a good responsible person they would know to put fail safes in place when they have a change in routine to not forget the child.”

    What fail safes are these, Dolly? Those “fail safes” are also outside of the routine so certainly not reliable to make sure you remember something else outside a routine. Say I put my purse in the backseat of the car because I have a child back there. Great, odds are that I’m now going leave both my child AND my purse in the car because getting the purse out of the backseat is also outside my normal get-to-work routine. If I have some use for my purse at work, I may remember at some point, but odds are it is just going to sit in the car until lunch. This may not happen to people really attached to their purses I suppose but all of us are not attached to them.

    And what of MEN who are not known for heir purse carrying? Many men take nothing to work every day.

  95. delurking January 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    You are mistaken. There is a Pulitzer prize winning article on this topic:
    In about 40 percent of cases, it is ruled an accident, and no charges are filed.

    Indeed. I agree with the message. My point is that using bad statistics to support your point weakens your position, even when your position is strong.

  96. Donna January 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    delurking – Interesting article. All the cases that I’ve heard about in the news have been charged – maybe that’s why I heard about them – but it is good to see that some haven’t. Still 60% is the majority of cases – my guess is that there is a 100% likelihood in some places and a 0% in others. In my jurisdiction, knowing the DA quite well, I have no doubt that the parents would be charged. I’ve seen it in other similar situations.

    Still 60% is not the get-out-of-jail free card that Dolly wants to make it. I certainly would never intentionally commit an act that carried a 60% chance of being charged with a serious crime. Considering “every year in America, 6,000 killers get away with murder,” you are probably much better off going with a more conventional murder plot than putting your child in your own vehicle in the hopes that you will be one of the 40% and not one of the 60%.

  97. delurking January 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    You are right. I would guess you have much better odds of getting away with murder if you run them over with your car.

  98. hineata January 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Coming late to this but, Warren and Dolly, I would venture that anyone who hasn’t occasionally forgotten about a kid in some circumstance hasn’t actually spent a lot of time around kids. I have-
    1/ forgotten my six week old in the van (fortunately lying on the floor in a well ventilated, cool space – we were just home and parked up in the driveway when a friend turned up) for fifteen minutes, until omg the friend asked where the baby was!
    2/left kids outside the class in the corridor in time out for way longer than intended, because I forgot they were there.
    3/ Forgotten I left baby number three safely at home with my husband, and had to park up and panic momentarily about where the hell she is, until preschool son reminds me…
    My pastor left his then-baby at home in the crib because his wife called asking to be picked up, and he forgot the kid was asleep. One of my colleagues left a child behind in the changing room at the pool. My recently bereaved friends left one of her charges outside a cafe in a pushchair for about ten minutes because she forgot she had him with her that day. And, my personal favorite, a friend and husband travelling in two separate cars left their youngest child at a small town supermarket and drove on one hundred kilometers before realizing that the kid wasn’t with either party.
    The only reason we can laugh about stuff like this is because nothing tragic happened. As someone who spends thousands of hours a year with all sorts of kids, mine and many others, I can well believe people can forget where they put kids. Most especially when a change of routine is involved. That idea of it being De!liberate comes from the plot of one of those shows like SVU…

  99. hineata January 20, 2014 at 2:35 pm #


  100. SOA January 20, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Guess I am some kind of super hero then because in my 6 years of raising my twins I have not forgotten them one time as far as leaving them somewhere. Forgetting I put them in time out in the house is not the same was forgetting them in the car or forgetting them and leaving the house without them. Something as big as that I have NEVER forgotten.

  101. SOA January 20, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    I already said men can leave their wallets in the back instead of a purse. Or the other fail safe I already mentioned about using a stuffed animal that you move from car seat to next to you in the front seat when you put the baby in the car seat. Or making a habit of always checking the backseat when you get out of the car whether the child is with you or not. Simple simple things an idiot could do.

    Most people I know are super attached to purses and wallets since pretty much every person has to carry some kind of purse or wallet so you do notice when those are not with you. Or your work keys or your work ID. Don’t try to be obtuse and act like there is not some way a person could prevent it. Because truth is there is. These parents just think they are perfect and won’t take the two seconds to do something they should be doing.

    And what the other poster said is right. Most people that burn their kids up in the cars don’t get charged and do get sympathy. Happened to a Dad in our city and most people felt bad for him and no charges were filed. It was the whole mentality of “He feels bad enough already”. So yes, it actually would be a great way to get away with murder or for someone with Munchasen’s or some other mental disorder to make it so they get attention.

  102. Donna January 20, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    “Guess I am some kind of super hero then because in my 6 years of raising my twins I have not forgotten them one time”

    Yes, Dolly you are a god among mothers. We should all dream to be prefect like you.

    “I already said men can leave their wallets in the back instead of a purse.”

    So an item that resides so permanently in men’s pockets that it leaves an imprint in their jeans being removed from said pocket and placed someplace it never is should alert them to what?

    “Most people I know are super attached to purses and wallets since pretty much every person has to carry some kind of purse or wallet so you do notice when those are not with you. Or your work keys or your work ID.”

    And everyone that you know is the whole of all the people in the world? Because most people that I know are just not that attached to their purses or wallets. Sure they like them and all but aren’t necessarily conscious of where they are every second. I can’t recall the last time I even saw anyone I know with a purse out and about. It is far more common to throw a license and credit card in a pocket around here.

    My work keys are in my hand since I just used a key to drive the car to work (and actually don’t even need the actual key since we have a code) and despite working since I was 8 years old, I’ve never once in the 35 years had a work ID. I had a badge when I worked in college but I didn’t have children to leave in a car.

    But the real point is, Dolly. You forgot your KID!!! Do you really think of your wallet or purse as much more important than your CHILD? If you can’t remember your CHILD in the backseat of the car because it is a break from routine, how the hell are you going to remember your PURSE in the backseat of the car when it is a break from routine?

    “Most people that burn their kids up in the cars don’t get charged and do get sympathy.”

    Ummm, Dolly, is it reading, math or both that are not your strong suit? The article delurking posted stated that 60% of those who leave their children in the car ARE CHARGED with crimes (manslaughter usually, but sometimes murder). Last time I checked, 60% who are charged actually constitutes “most,” not the 40% who aren’t.

  103. hineata January 21, 2014 at 2:57 am #

    @Donna – amen. Frankly, I’ve forgotten where I’ve left my handbag far more often than I’ve forgotten where I left my kids. That certainly wouldn’t work for me, though possibly I am not on the same planet as others.

    Dolly, I had forgotten you had twins. Two might be harder to forget than one. If your twins are anything like the pair we know, when one was asleep, the other was awake. So possibly some parents of twins don’t forget their kids at any time. But I would be surprised. I have yet to meet, in my own albeit limited but multicultural world (i.e. parental mistakes are not limited to one ethnic group), a parent who hasn’t admitted to forgetting their preschool child at least once. Thankfully, not in a car….

  104. Warren January 21, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    I am fully supportive of people/parents make mistakes.

    If leaving a child in a vehicle long enough to cause that child to die is truly a mistake, then that is not the problem. The problem is people/parents are too self absorb with matters that they have allowed themselves to become far too busy, with crap.
    And if your life is too busy that you allow a child to die in the car, because you forgot they were there, then jail time will give you plenty of time to learn how to manage yourself better.

  105. SKL January 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    I couldn’t forget my kids when they were little, because they were always with me. I felt weird when they were not with me.

    A lot of the incidents of kids dying in parked cars involve someone other than the mom, who usually doesn’t have the child or any child. Like a grandfather. And I certainly do believe they are almost always tragic accidents.

    Though there are some mothers who have been known to leave their kids – in cars, in cribs, or elsewhere – long enough for them to expire. I’m pretty sure mental illness is involved just about every time. Needless to say, that has absolutely nothing to do with a mom running into a storefront for 5-10 minutes and returning to her safe, healthy baby/child.

  106. SKL January 21, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    I meant, my kids were always with me, or about to be with me, whenever I went out in the car. Not that they were with me 24/7. 😛

  107. Jean January 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    I would like to point out that heat and abduction are only two of the MANY risks a child faces when left alone in or around a vehicle… yes, even for a minute. I wish more people did their homework before attacking the idea that a child is in danger alone in a vehicle. Statistics are collected by a group called KidsAndCars.org. Here is what I learned from their website:
    Power windows in vehicles have killed or injured thousands of children. It takes just 22 pounds of force to suffocate or injure an infant while power windows can exert an upward force of 30-80 pounds of force. Children are curious; they push buttons without realizing the dangers of what can happen. Power accessories (moving seats, van doors) have the same tragic consequences.
    Every year hundreds of children are hospitalized or even killed after accidentally setting a car into motion. Most drivers think that their vehicle cannot be shifted into gear unless the vehicle is running and the driver has their foot on the brake. However, this is NOT the case. Vehicles can be knocked into gear while turned off and without the driver’s foot on the brake.
    Vehicles are stolen with children alone inside quite frequently, most commonly within “just a minute” of the child being left. This happens even in the safest neighborhoods. Most of the time, the thief doesn’t realize there is a child inside until they are already gone in the vehicle.
    A child can choke on something inside of the vehicle and there is no adult there to help them (children are known for putting everything in their mouth).
    Children have been strangled by seat belts in vehicles.
    Vehicle fires are started by children who have discovered matches or a lighter.
    Children have been seriously injured from falling out of a vehicle.
    Children who are able to exit a vehicle face an entirely new set of dangers. Every week in the US at least 50 children are backed over by vehicles because they cannot be seen in the blindzone behind a vehicle.
    Every year, thousands of children are hurt or die because a driver moving forward very slowly didn’t see them. These incidents for the most part take place in residential driveways or parking lots and are referred to as ‘frontovers.’ (the opposite of a backover).

    NEVER leave a child alone inside a vehicle… not even for a minute! Free-range or not… every family this every happened to never thought it could happen to them and it did. These tragedies happen every single day in our country and it only takes a minute.

    Is it really that much of a hassle to take your kids out of the car with you?

  108. Warren January 21, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Don’t know where you/they get their information.
    1. None of our vehicles, all automatics, can be knocked into gear. It is a mechanical impossibilty. The key must be turned to the ON, not acces., position. The brake depressed, the safety released (push button on the gear shift on the cars, and pull back on the trucks).
    2. Unless the key is in the acces. position, none of the power options work. Not the locks, the windows, the radio, the lighter, the seats, none of them.
    3. Of these kids that are backed over, and rolled over….how many were ones left in the car for 10 mins.?
    4. If you don’t have matches or lighters they cannot start a fire, and most good parents have already taught their kids not to play with those things.
    5. Properly fastened seatbelts do not strangle.
    6.If you cannot trust your kids to stay in the car, when told to, that is your problem not mine. Mine did as they were instructed.
    7. Yes sometimes it is a hassle, and sometimes it is a hassle for them. So thank you very much, I will continue to make that call myself.

  109. SKL January 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    OH PLEASE. Better keep your children away from the kitchen, too, especially at mealtime, because do you know how many choking hazards there are? Be responsible.

    Or maybe a parent of a toddler has enough sense to keep choking hazards away from his reach, even when he’s in a safety seat?

    Matches? Lighters? They don’t even exist in my car, never have.

    I don’t have power windows, never have. My car cannot be accidentally (or intentionally) kicked into gear when the key is in my pocket. And I would not have left my kids in the car when they were of an age that they were likely to find a way to escape and hurt themselves.

    All the real “dangers” that could happen to my kids in their car seats are more likely to happen if they follow me to wherever I’m going. If actual safety were my main concern, I ought to have left them in the car more often.

  110. SOA January 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    I read some article where it talked about all the people that did forget their kids and they died and there was one thing I noticed. There were no stay at home parents in the group. I think a stay at home parent is used to having their kids with them most of the time. I feel weirder when mine are not with me. It seems to tend to be working parents who have to drop kids off at daycare or sitters or run here or run there.

    Not anything negative to say about working parents but I did notice that.

  111. SKL January 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    All those little kids who were run over in parking lots – should have been restrained in their car seats. Much safer than having them in the parking lot. Thanks for making my point.

  112. Emily January 21, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    One minute can easily become ten.
    I used to work at a baby store in a very good neighbourhood. Well over the course of one summer we witnessed an armed robbery, two different police chases and a hostage taking at the kitchen store across the street. All in a very good family neighbourhood. You just never know.

  113. Buffy January 21, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    As has been mentioned numerous times earlier, the “one minute can become ten” is a red herring. The parent KNOWS that their child is waiting in the car, and if the errand is starting to take too long he/she can make a new decision at that time. It’s not like the minute they get to the ATM they somehow forget that they have children and where they are.

    And none of the crimes you mentioned involved a child waiting in the car. But just think of all the kids that might have been in that kitchen store because their moms were too afraid to leave them in the car…….

  114. anonymous mom January 21, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    I get why people think it might not be best, or might even be actively unsafe, to leave a child unattended in a car. I do. The issue is, we have to consider what the alternative to allowing other parents to make that choice for themselves is. And, in the U.S., the only alternative we have seems to be punishing those who fail to do what we say with criminal abuse charges and the threat of losing their children. Is that alternative better for the kids?

    No. I mean, just no. There’s no even any debate there. There are few things more ACTUALLY damaging to a child’s safety and well-being than being removed from the family they love and who loves them. The tiny theoretical “Well, it *could* happen” dangers involved with leaving a child in the car (in most cases–not talking about summers in the desert) are NOTHING compared to the actual, demonstrable, documented harm to a child’s development and mental state that having a parent in prison or being placed in foster care does.

    Any time we’re considering calling CPS or the cops on a parent, we need to consider that. Is the harm that could come to this child from being removed from their home (something that is a real possibility whenever CPS gets involved) or from their parent spending time in prison (a real possibility when the police get involved) really less serious that the possible harm whatever parenting choice we don’t like might cause? In the vast majority of cases, the answer will simply be that it’s not even close. Whatever choice we don’t approve of is massively less potentially harmful than getting the authorities involved will be.

    Knowing the documented outcomes for children removed from their homes, and the real trauma that even a temporary placement into foster care or a temporary parental stay in prison can cause, I personally would never contact the police or CPS about a parenting choice I didn’t approve of unless a child’s life was clearly, imminently in danger. But, lots of things don’t make the cut. Letting your kid walk further alone than I think is safe doesn’t. Feeding your child a steady diet of fast food, no matter how unhealthy that might be, doesn’t. Keeping your home in a state that is far less sanitary than I think is ideal doesn’t. Using a discipline method that seems overly harsh to me but that doesn’t actually injure your child doesn’t. And certainly leaving your child in the car while you run into a store doesn’t.

    There are things I might feel that I should talk to another parent about, but unless their child was actively, genuinely in danger (not theoretically in danger or at risk for potential problems later in life), I would never alert the authorities. The damage done by their involvement would almost always be far greater than the potential damage of whatever parenting choice I don’t approve of. If this is about the well-being of children rather than my wanting to flaunt my superiority, then what matters is what is best for the child, that what is best for the child is ALMOST NEVER having the authorities involved.

  115. SKL January 22, 2014 at 12:03 am #

    Anonymous: exactly.

    And also, there are other alternatives that are at least as helpful to the child as calling the cops.

    In the situation that happened to me, I left my school-age kids in the car (in a parking spot, car off, keys with me) and carried my prepared FedEx package into the nearby FedEx Store. Whoever called the cops (probably someone at the Starbucks next door) could have just watched over my car for a few minutes, or if she was really upset, she could have followed me into the FedEx store and expressed her concerns. She could have thought for a second, “hmm, it’s not actually hot, the sun is not up in the sky, the car is not on, the kids are not trying to drive or run away, and the FedEx store doesn’t seem like the sort of place a mom would get lost in for a long period of time. But hey, I care about kids, let me just hang out for a bit and see if she comes back. (I mean, you never know. She might be having an affair with the FedEx guy and they could run out the back door, hop in his truck, and disappear forever. You just never know.) So let me watch for five or ten minutes as I sip my Latte, and if she doesn’t come out, I could go after her and see if she intends to abandon these poor darlings. And then if she is nowhere around and the FedEx guy is missing and the back door is swinging in the breeze, then I’d better call the cops.” And by the time these thoughts were done running through her mind, I would have been getting back into my car already. And she wouldn’t be able to tell herself, “I probably saved some endangered child’s life today.” :/

  116. Warren January 22, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I am less likely to believe that those that call 911 are truly doing it out of concern. A truly concerned person does not kneejerk dial 911. They weigh the situation.

    The ones that call 911 are the ones that feel they are morally superior to others, or they get some sort of thrill out of calling 911.

    Can we replace those stupid yellow signs “Baby Onboard” with ones that say “My kids, my rules, leave us the hell alone”

  117. Donna January 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    @SOA – It is all about routine. Human beings are creatures of habit. It is biological. The brain kicks into auto-pilot when we are doing habitual things to save resources. Kids getting forgotten in cars happens almost exclusively when there has been a break in an established routine. The brain kicks into auto-pilot and doesn’t account for the added child.

    So, yes, a stay-at-home parent has an advantage because her daily routine involves having children with her. She also doesn’t have a set driving routine. A person working outside the home largely gets into a car at the exact same time and drives the exact same route to work every single day, 250 or so days a year. Her brain slips into auto-pilot the second she gets into the car in the morning and she gets to the office largely without conscious thought. That is why the most common situation is a kid being forgotten by a parent on the way to work who is not usually responsible for the morning drop-off.

    That said, it has happened to grandparents who just don’t generally have a baby in their daily lives anymore. It could also happen to a stay-at-home parent who routinely does something without their children, say go to the gym, and one day has to bring the baby.

  118. Rachel January 23, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    I’m waiting for the day a cop in New Jersey pulls over suspicious teen who is driving the family car to work or school.
    “Officer, what did I do?”
    “Son, your parents are abusing you! Imagine allowing a ‘child’ to be alone in a car! Now I’ll take you into custody for your own protection!”