“Parents Face Hard Consequences for Leaving Kids in Car” — Today Show Blog!

Folks: I am more than impressed by this piece on the Today Show blog about criminalizing parents who let their kids wait in the car during a brief errand. As you know, this is a topic we talk about here a lot, and one of our stories — this one, about Christina Moon — caught the eye of writer A. Pawlowski, who then wrote a story about it (and got 400 comments). Pardon me for featuring the chunk that quotes yours truly:

“I feel as if we’ve criminalized something that we all know in our heart of hearts is generally safe,” said Lenore Skenazy, blogger and author of “Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).”

“I do think it’s dangerous to leave a child alone for a long time in a car. I also think that a parent is capable of deciding if it makes sense to leave her kids in the car for the duration of an errand.”

Most people remember waiting in cars while their parents ran a few errands, a practice that wasn’t “crazy negligent” then and still isn’t now, she added.

Fennell [spokeswoman for the group Kids and Cars] countered there are many dangers lurking inside a car besides the obvious risk of heat stroke. If a car is running and the kid is playing with the power window switches, he could strangle himself if he sticks his head outside. Children who’ve been watching mom push the buttons on the dashboard could try the same and knock the car into gear. All those scenarios have actually happened, Fennell noted.

It’s interesting when people are justifying that ‘I know my child, I know what’s best for my child, I’m the parent,’ but maybe they should sit on our website for an hour,” she said.

“They’re putting their own convenience ahead of the safety and well-being of the children and people don’t like to hear that. Those are tough words.”

Jail time is possibility

But Skenazy cautions against “worst first thinking,” or immediately coming up with the very worst-case scenario – heatstroke, kidnapping or carjacking — and proceeding as if it’s likely to happen. Parents want to keep their kids safe more than anybody and if they decide it’s OK to leave a child in a car while running an errand that won’t take too long on a day that’s not too hot, the odds show they are right, she said.

Skenazy also has disdain for people who call the police right away when they see a child alone in a car, instead of waiting a few minutes to see if a parent will emerge.

“The idea that you should always get the authorities involved strikes me as less Good Samaritan and more KGB,” Skenazy said.

How great to have both sides represented. Read the whole piece here! – L.

Kids in cars: Not always hell on wheels!

72 Responses to “Parents Face Hard Consequences for Leaving Kids in Car” — Today Show Blog!

  1. Nicole July 16, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    AC and power windows have basically turned cars into solar ovens, so, yeah- I think some awareness of that is helpful, both where it concerns children and pets. But the idea that you can’t leave the child in the vehicle to use an ATM, pump gas, bring in groceries, bring in your other sleeping children, etc, etc is just madness. Roll down the windows when it’s warm, keep the child strapped into their child restraint, and take the keys out of the ignition and you’ll have a very low risk situation. The scarriest cases involve forgetting the child, and I doubt that is something we can prevent 100%. Fortunately those cases are rare.

    Safekids, who I usually support (their programs distribute car seats and helmets for low cost and free) drives me nuts with their you can never, ever, ever leave a child in a vehicle.

  2. Matthew Miller July 16, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    It sounds like the horrible possibilities are all easily averted by not leaving the car running. People shouldn’t leave their car running when running errands anyway. The amount of fuel used and pollution produced each time is small, but collectively it’s very wasteful. Turn your car off when you’re not driving.

  3. Outnumbered July 16, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    I live in a community with people who will absolutely call the police if my kids are left in the car. I just don’t understand this line of thinking. I have 3 kids, 2 of which are very energetic twin boys. No one on this planet is going to convince me that it’s safer for me to tote them across a parking lot, where car bumpers are eye-level with them and drivers are distracted by cell phones and radios, or who can’t see them behind their giant SUVs and mini vans. Fennell should add statistics about kids being run over in parking lots if she wants to really analyze facts. The truth is, my kids are SAFER in my car with the windows down than they are being hauled through a parking lot. Statistics show this to be true!

  4. Will July 16, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    “I doubt that is something we can prevent 100%.”

    This. So much this. There are very few things that are 100% preventable. Every single day, we take what we consider to be acceptable risks.

    For a while, I swear our car attracted distracted drivers and we’d get hit within 24 hours of leaving on a car trip. Does that mean we stopped taking car trips? Did errands 48 hours ahead instead? Walked everywhere the week before? No. It was simply this miraculous coincidence (just because it’s bad doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle). So, we kept putting our children in that car and taking trips. No one was hurt. Call that a miracle as well, considering automobile accident statistics.

    Leaving my kids in the van for 5 minutes while I run in to grab a gallon of milk doesn’t even rate. Because it would take an even greater miracle for something to happen to them. Given the history (and statistics from those who keep them), the most likely outcome would be that some distracted driver would back into the van. And what could I do to prevent that? Maybe honk the horn and hope. But that’s failed me more than once already. Some drivers just don’t want to know.

    Let me tell you the absolute crazy thing I did to try to prevent all that “they’ll hit buttons or put the car in gear” crap: I *taught my children what the buttons do*. I even let my oldest daughter, when she was 7, turn the key and start the car, because she was interested. I supervised it. Now, she’s 10, and, frankly, she couldn’t care less about starting the car. She was interested in something. I didn’t make the mistake of scaring her, or forbidding it. I nurtured her curiosity in a safe environment, and she’s moved on to other more interesting things. *And* she learned that she can come to Daddy if she’s curious, and he’ll help her find things out.

    That’s what Fennel and his ilk ought to be preaching. Knowledge is the cure for fear and curiosity both. Teach your kids about the car when they show an interest, and the rest will work itself out.

  5. Buffy July 16, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Isn’t it true that most kids who have died in a hot car were forgotten, for lack of a better word, by their parent, (such as Dad normally takes the kid to day care, but today Mom did…) *not* parents running a quick errand?

    And many of the commenters on the original blog referenced a kidnapper smashing the car window and snatching the kid. I’d like to know if that has ever happened in the history of the world, and if so, how many times. Of course the commenters say it happens all the time.

  6. Kvirtue July 16, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    (Side note- slightly off topic: I stopped my 5 year old from wanting to ‘play driver’ by setting off the car alarm remotely when I saw her poking buttons (it’s a Prius- many big buttons!). She was in the car in the driveway–I was watching from the house. As both the alarm and she were wailing, I came hurrying out and said ‘what did you do?’ and turned it off. After comforting her that ‘this time all worked out OK’ we had a good discussion that cars were not toys and only for adults to use. She hasn’t poked buttons since. I think she heard the message much more than endless lectures on ‘don’t play with the buttons

  7. QuicoT July 16, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    You keep giving ’em hell, Lenore! It’s so good to feel somebody is fighting our corner here…

  8. Warren July 16, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I get a real kick out of the people that make the claims dealing with the mechanical workings of the vehicles.

    1. A vehicle left running could be knocked into gear. Unless it is a manual transmission, a vehicle cannot be KNOCKED into gear. Modern automatic trannys have a double action release system. The brake must be engaged, and a button depressed or the shift lever pulled forward. Hell my wife cannot put my truck in gear without sliding the seat forward, she ain’t tall enough.
    2. A vehicle left running could possibly stall. Yes,highly unlikely a parent whose car stalls would rely on it not stalling. As for the off chance my truck will stall………..ha won’t happen. The deisel engine will idle for hours and hours, untill it runs out fuel.
    3.Power windows by their definition need power. If the car is not turned to at least he AC setting the windows won’t work. If the car is running, most cars have a driver lockout button, which limits control of the windows to the driver only.

    I have pointed these things out to people in discussions about kids in cars, dogs in cars or both. They still come back with “But is it worth the risk?”

  9. Warren July 16, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    LOL, Kevin Harvick of NASCAR must be on their hitlist. He let’s his little one sit in the driver seat on pit road, before every race.

  10. Beth July 16, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Did anyone sit on the Kids and Cars website for an hour? Not me! (Plus, AN HOUR?)

  11. In the Trenches July 16, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Topical. Just this morning I heard that a man was charged with “child abandonment” for leaving his 9 month old in the car for ten minutes while he was in Home Depot in Toronto. http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-father-charged-with-abandonment-after-infant-girl-left-in-hot-car-1.1368819

  12. Havva July 16, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Last week the local traffic/weather and news station had a bit about a mom on trial because her baby died in a hot car. This was paired with the usual never leave you kid in a car for a minute, and followed up with how many kids have died this year in overheated cars. You would think this woman hated her child. But, the thing they mentioned only in passing, was that the car was parked a the mother’s workplace and the child went undiscovered for 8 hours. In other words, just like the vast majority of these tragedies, the mother forgot the baby was in the car and went to work. The child did not die because mom decided to run a quick errand, the child died due to confusion and forgetfulness.

    It’s a heart wrenching article, and I still remember reading it before I was pregnant. I have no intention of reading it again, but here is the Pulitzer Prize wining piece on the topic: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2009-03-08/news/36840402_1_courtroom-tissue-class-trip

    I think a lot of people are invested in believing that the parents who loose children in this way are evil, and thus, it would never happen to them. It’s easier to campaign against moms or dads who want to let the sick kid wait in the car for 5 minutes in the dead of winter; than to accept that making it illegal to do so, will not stop stressed parents from forgetting that they didn’t actually make the stop at daycare.

  13. AnotherAnon July 16, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    I do the same thing that Nicole suggests, especially when I go to the convenience store at our corner gas station. Taking my kids into a place with that much candy and junk food at eye level is a disaster, and it turns a short errand into a major big deal. Instead, I roll down the windows, take the keys with me, tell them to wait, and run in to get what I need (usually a box of eggs or a gallon of milk).

    I’m usually gone, literally, less than 2 minutes. They have come to think of it as standard, when we go to the convenience store, I go in without them.

  14. Kimberly July 16, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    This is one I’m always going to disagree with you on. Leaving a child in a car is torture and even a small delay – longer line than you expected, running into a friend and talking can cause death in less than 10 minutes. Maybe it is the difference in location – I’m in Subtropical Houston.

    From March to November – I won’t sit in a car with the AC off for longer than it takes me to grab my stuff and get out. Why the HELL would I put a child through that torture.

    A child I know had to be treated for heat exhaustion when the key fob malfunctioned* and locked the child in the car, with the parent standing outside. 911 and a lock smith were called immediately – both arrived within 10 minutes and in that short time the child was already ill. No – they didn’t press charges and both the locksmith and one of the EMTs called to check on the child the next day.

    *Mom had a bunch of things in her hands and dropped them on the front seat. The fob was in there. It shouldn’t have locked the doors from inside the car but it did. MOm finished buckling child in and shut the door not realizing the doors were now locked and keys on the front seat of the car.

  15. Warren July 16, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Was wondering, is it now illegal to for my inuit friends to leave their kids with the dog sled while they run an errand?

  16. Heather July 16, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    I have four kids from 6-12. When I’m going to leave them in the car for a few minutes, I have my 12 year old hop up front, lock the doors, and buckle up. I figure if she’s there no one is going to car jack. I usually keep it running though because it’s so hot here.

  17. Gary July 16, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    “Was wondering, is it now illegal to for my inuit friends to leave their kids with the dog sled while they run an errand?”

    Way to make lite of a serious situation Warren, real classy. You know how many kids were snatched out of their sleds by polar bears while their “parent” was trying to build the igloo or slicing their Tauntaun open so the child could be kept warm?

  18. Amanda Matthews July 16, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    @Kimberly from that, I see a danger in kids being unable to unlock the doors, rather than a danger in leaving kids in the car (and rather than the danger in the kids being ABLE to unlock the door that is usually used as a reason against leaving kids in the car).

    If the kid had been able to unlock the door, that whole mess and the heat stroke could have been avoided!

    My kids can all unbuckle and unlock the doors, but only do so when appropriate. I’m more afraid of locking them in than I am of them suddenly losing their minds and jumping out of the car while I’m running an errand.

  19. Joanne July 16, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    They don’t get snatched by the polar bears. That’s what the village polar bear watchers job is… to watch for polar bears.

    As a kid, I hated shoes and pulled them off the moment I could in the car. If I could stay in the car I did and I grew up in Southern Arizona (my parents owned a black chevy impala with red vinyl seats, talk about an oven!). If it got too hot in the car I got out of the car and I would go into the store to look for my parent. It really wasn’t a crisis. On the rare occasion I didn’t find my mom in the store that meant she was already back at the car and I somehow missed her. She didn’t automatically assume I was dead and she would wait (usually irritated by that point because I BEGGED to wait in the car and didn’t) until I figured out she wasn’t in the store and came back out to the car.

  20. Amanda Matthews July 16, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    (and they also have the sense in an emergency to roll down the windows or, if that isn’t possible, open a door instead of sit there and die of heat stroke)

  21. Racheleh July 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Warren,I would rather leave my kid with a dog than many humans.
    Kimberly, In the summer in Houston you don’t wait for a locksmith, You bust the window. I don’t like electronic locks for that reason. They break easy.
    No one is talking about leaving their kid in a car with the windows rolled up an no way to get out. In fact parents have the good judgement to not do that. If its not appropriate parents will not leave their child in the car. It is the overworked, sleep deprived, new parent that gets hit with the tragedy of the forgotten child in the car. It is a horrible thing that it happens, but to criminalize it would just add injustice on top of tragedy.

  22. Uly July 16, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Kimberley, most of us don’t live in Houston. As the expression goes, you may think it’s hot now, but just wait until you die and go to Texas!

    For those of us in more temperate climes, staying in the car on many or even most days, for a few minutes, isn’t torture unless you mean the torture of boredom.

    Which doesn’t mean we should abandon all common sense and leave our young kids in cars in 99 degree weather for hours on end, but for the average person, leaving the kid for ten minutes in March is not that bad an idea.

  23. lollipoplover July 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Uggh. The car thing bothers me- thankfully we have tinted windows in the back where I tell the kids to sit if I have to run in for a minute. Otherwise I just leave them at home.
    One thing about cars (especially in heat waves) is that dark interiors combined with sun and windows can double the temperature inside a car quickly.

  24. Eva July 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    I think the point is that circumstances differ. I would not leave a baby in the car in the summer in Arizona. My rule t was that baby was the first thing out in the summer, since I had a friend who lost a baby by forgetting it in the car because she unloaded her toddler and groceries first and didn’t notice that the sleeping baby wasn’t unloaded. (Incidentally, after that tragedy, her family had to change states, and her husband had to change careers because of the harassment they endured from CPS.)

    On the other hand, in the winter in Arizona the car can be lovely. Older children are a different case than younger children. Some kids will try to drive the car, others will wait patiently.

    Parents are not perfect, but I would rather be making the decisions for my own situation than deal with a law attempting to make a one size fits all scenario.

  25. Tsu Dho Nimh July 16, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    As children, my sibs and I preferred to be left in the car with a book … a few minutes to an hour or so of quiet reading.

    Here in AZ, it’s a lot different, because it’s bloody HOT! A child (or pet) left in a car can be in heat stroke in a few minutes

    Unless the car is clearly in an “in and out” situation, like it’s at the pump and driver is paying for gas, I’m going to be calling 9-1-1 and breaking a window to haul the child out.

  26. rae July 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    This was such a dilemma for me when my kids were smaller. Now they are 6 & 9, they come in if they want, and sit in the car if they don’t. If it’s very quick errand, my 9 year old can even stay home (gasp!!). However, I refuse to leave the car running. That decision comes down to knowing my kids, knowing what will tempt them- so many things about that scenario would tempt my 6 year old.

    When they were a preschooler and toddler, I had a reasonable fear of my older child being hit by a car in a parking lot. Kids in cars says it happens 2400 times a year (way more than kids getting heatstroke in a car, btw). My older guy was particularly at risk. He is special needs- hyperactive, impulsive and has some sensory issues that made it very hard for him to hold hands when he was little, same sensory issues made a brightly lit store tough, too (although the consequences of being stressed/melting down in a store is not as perilous as darting behind a car backing up, or in front of someone looking for a parking spot)

    Anyway, the dilemma: Leave a calm kid in the car for 10 minutes in temperate weather, or remove child from the car, disrupting the calm, and necessitating navigating the potential dangers of the parking lot? I ended up leaving him in places I could see the car gas station, coffee shop, convenience store, and taking him into the grocery store/target/hardware store and screaming at him a lot parking lots (sigh). I have no hindsight, except that I still don’t like either option.

  27. Buffy July 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    “You know how many kids were snatched out of their sleds – ”

    @Gary, since you seem to know…as asked above, how many kids have been snatched out of locked vehicles?

  28. georgia July 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    I live in Georgia, and I never leave my kids in the car. It’s SO HOT. Yes, it’s a royal pain to drag them in and out of the vehicle for small errands, but I do it anyway.

    Also, let me tell you that no matter how much you “explain” things to your children, sometimes they can still be stupid, which is how it came to be that our mother came out of the grocery store with a gallon of milk, having left me and my sister in the car, to discover that her car had rolled backward through the parking lot and hit another vehicle. My 3-year-old sister wanted to know what the parking brake did, and I (8yo) kindly demonstrated (engine off, manual car with gears in neutral).

    Don’t leave your kids in the car.

  29. Amanda Matthews July 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    “Also, let me tell you that no matter how much you “explain” things to your children, sometimes they can still be stupid”

    But the same goes for adults.

    Should I never leave my husband in the car unattended? He drives to work alone every morning… should I hire a chaperone?

  30. Gary July 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    “You know how many kids were snatched out of their sleds –

    @Gary, since you seem to know…as asked above, how many kids have been snatched out of locked vehicles?”

    your sarcasm detector seems to be broken…

    or maybe you didn’t get the Star Wars reference either.

  31. lollipoplover July 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    “The purpose of the laws is not to be the parent police,” said Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org. “What they’re really meant to do is to say, maybe you don’t know this is serious, but it is.”

    But it’s not serious ALL the time. If you make it seem like life or death every time, you end up with freaky kids who don’t feel safe being left alone for short periods.
    Cars are death chambers and our kids should be fully aware of this. Maybe Ms. Fennel can develop kiddie corrals outside of supermarkets/stores/malls where you can park your kids if you can’t leave them in the car because they will die? I bet this would save so many lives….

  32. Gary July 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    “Maybe Ms. Fennel can develop kiddie corrals outside of supermarkets/stores/malls where you can park your kids if you can’t leave them in the car because they will die? I bet this would save so many lives….”

    They already have them except inconsiderate lazy people put their shopping carts in them…

  33. Tana C July 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I live in Georgia, too, and would never leave anything living or chocolate in the car for more than a minute or two during Spring to Early Fall- they might melt.
    Also my kid has the capacity for disasters due to curiosity, but (remarkably enough) obeys me if I say, “Stay behind the front row of seats, don’t touch anything up here.” He’s smart enough to wait and ask me what he’s wondering about when I return (he’s 8).

  34. Warren July 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    @Joanne
    It is the Orcas, Killer Whales, they come up under them, break thru the ice, and take the sled, dogs and kids back down. It is just so horrible, and at the height of the season, dozens of kids are lost daily in just this fashion.

    @Gary
    You may want to refrain from commenting on the Killer Whales, considering all the flack you took over the polar bear incident. LMAO

  35. Stephanie July 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    My kids have already had their problem with the car due to curiosity, but they weren’t in it at the time. They were playing out front and decided they wanted to know how the read window wiper worked. Broke it. These days they can climb all around inside the car and won’t touch anything because they know how much trouble they’ll get into if they do, and that if they really need to know, we’ll show them.

  36. georgia July 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    “Should I never leave my husband in the car unattended? He drives to work alone every morning… should I hire a chaperone? ”

    Really? You’re going to compare leaving your husband in the car with leaving a 3yo in the car? *rolls eyes*

  37. Donna July 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    I also live in Georgia, and just spent a year and a half living in the South Pacific where it is HOT and half the cars in every parking lot have kids waiting in them. Since most cars have windows that roll down, I don’t see a problem. I am not going to make my child stay in the car in the summer in Georgia (or A. Samoa) for more than a minute or two, but if she wants to roll down the window and hang out, I have no problem with it. She may become hot but she isn’t going to die. And if she gets miserably hot, she can open the door and wait outside the car. Good grief, some would think that the world didn’t exist before air conditioning.

  38. Crystal July 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Thank you so much Lenore, for continuing to be the voice of reason and intelligence. I love knowing an awesome, strong, sassy woman like you is on my side!

  39. Deb July 16, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Last summer I left my 9 1/2 year old in the van in the shade with all windows down right in front of the window in which we were having a treat. He had been horrible and rude and it was his consequence. I did receive a phone call from the police. So now I bring him in and he is rude and nasty in the coffee shop.

  40. Steverino July 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    I applaud the foresight of those nervous nellies who say “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER” leave you child in the car. But what they don’t consider is what happens when the Texas Chainsaw Massacre starts up inside the 7-11 while you’re just popping in to pick up a coffee. What then, Nellie? Would you wish that you had left your 4-year old outside in the car (or on the dogsled, whichever applies)? When bullets are flying and chainsaws are humming, you don’t want to be slowed down by a kid. Toddlers and pre-schoolers are notoriously slow when pursued by murderous madmen. And they don’t zig-zag properly. So, I just wish that people would think of that, for once.

  41. Claudia July 16, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    As other people have said, the way I see it is that walking across a car park is almost certainly more statistically dangerous than staying in a car; with OR without the engine on, though frankly I can’t see why it should be on.

    Especially if you/the kids are tired and cranky, or if you have more young kids than available hands.

  42. S July 16, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Sheesh, I grew up in downstate NY and live now in VT where it’s actually hot like 2x a year. My mom left me in the car all the time and simply rolled down the windows. I knew that if I touched ANYTHING I’d be in huge trouble.

  43. Michelle July 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    Just to say, I also live in Houston and it’s still not ALWAYS awful to leave the kids in the car. There’s a huge difference between the situation Kimberly described — putting a child into a car that has been sitting and is already stifling hot, and then closing them in for ten minutes — and leaving a kid for a few minutes in a car that is still cold from the air conditioning. I wouldn’t leave my kids for more than a couple of minutes in the summer here, because it DOES get hot fast. (And why on earth would I stop and chat with someone in the store when I know my kids are waiting in the car for me?? I don’t get that.) But when I do leave them just to grab a soda or pay for gas or whatever, the car is still cool when I get back. It doesn’t make any sense to me to fear that the car that was still comfortable the first 100 times I left them, would suddenly be boiling hot the 101st time.

  44. Gary July 16, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    “You may want to refrain from commenting on the Killer Whales, considering all the flack you took over the polar bear incident. LMAO”

    After what one did to Bo Derek and Richard Harris? NEVER!!!

    And I kno right? I mean if your sarcasm wasn’t detected what hope did I really have for mine…

  45. Mae July 16, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    The commentd on that FB post were brutal. I guess I wanted to punish myself some more because I clicked over to see the responses about taking a vacation with or without the kids. Man, people are talking about how lazy parents should never have had children if they were just going to dump them on other people. So now we can’t even take a weekend to reconnect with our spouse because the “kids will be traumatized” and “I should want to make all of my memories with my children”? Good grief. One day I will learn to not read the comments. (Sorry that I got off topic.)

  46. John July 17, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    Whatever happened to using plane old discretion? Why is there a need for an all encompassing law? If it’s blistery hot and I let my 5-year-old kid sleep in the back seat while I shop, then I should be arrested. But if I leave my two 10-year-old boys in the car to let them play video games on their iPhones while I shop, why is that a crime? Let the car run with the AC on and then if it shuts off for any reason, the two boys are perfectly capable of getting out of a hot car. This kind of law would not have prevented the tragedies of parents who left their kids behind in a hot car only to have them die because in all of those cases, the parent FORGOT about the child. The hotcar law does not eradicate forgetfulness. We have become completely void of common sense here in America when it comes to children.

  47. bmommyx2 July 17, 2013 at 3:17 am #

    So Sad. I live with this fear anytime I leave my kids for a few minutes. I don’t know about her daughter, but when I do leave my kids the door is locked & they are secured in their carseats. I don’t have a newer car with remote start so I don’t leave it running, but the windows are always open an appropriate amount. Her daughter was in absolutely zero danger & that should have been taken into consideration. These zero tolerance rules & laws are unacceptable. In California the law is not so black & white. It’s kind of vague & I’m sure if they wanted to arrest, fine & prosecute someone they would.

  48. bmommyx2 July 17, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    Some of these comments are awesome & so are just so stupid. I live in So. Cal where it can get very hot, triple digits. I obviously don’t leave my kids when it’s hot, but after the sun goes down & it’s cooler, early in the morning, a mild day parked in the shade these are not dangerous situations. I only leave them when I can park close & if my errand takes longer I will pop outside several times & check on them. My two year old is supper rambunctious & a runner so a busy parking lot is more of a danger than five or even ten minutes in the car. I make it a point to try & avoid getting gas at a time of day when it’s hot, because even in the shade it can get too hot & I certainly don’t want them loose at the gas station. Lenore, I love the last line of your comment; KGB, LOL

  49. Tom July 17, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    The comments on the Today site are difficult to read…. mainly because they’re so uneducated, opinionated, and risk averse.

    Yes it’s dangerous to leave kids in the car in the summer. No, it’s not dangerous to leave them most of the rest of the year (at least in my part of the country). An hour in the car is always too much – especially for very young kids, but five or ten minutes while I go get a couple gallons of milk at a convenience store? The problem is that these insane laws punish clear-headed, law-abiding people too.

    However… the car should always be off (or in Accessory mode for the radio). Common sense and kid independence should take care of the rest.

  50. Warren July 17, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    @Tom
    Why should the car always be off?

  51. Candice July 17, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    I have been a fan of your site for a few months now and never responded but this one hit home and I have to share my story.

    I have three kids ages 6, 10 & 12. Last fall I went to pick my oldest up from her middle school earlier than the regular release time. I also had my other kids with me. My two youngest insisted on staying in the car while I went to check her out. This errand took maybe 5 minutes. Keep in mind I was parked in a 15 minute spot. When I left the car, my son was engrossed in a movie and my 10 year old was playing on her iPod. I left the keys in the car so the movie could play. Both kids had instructions to stay in their own seat and lock the doors when I got out of the car.

    When I returned from checking my daughter out I walked up to the car and knocked on the window to let them know I needed to get in. My daughter was engrossed in her iPod so didn’t respond right away so I knocked again and said her name loudly to get her attention. She unlocked the door and let us in. All was good and we drove away.

    What happened next was chaos, it stressed me out and made me feel like a criminal. WHAT? I would never do anything to put my kids in danger!

    As I was driving home I received a call but I did not answer because I was driving and I didn’t know the number. Neither one of my girls wanted to answer it because it wasn’t daddy or anyone they knew. When I got in the house my phone rang the first thing the caller said was “Is Ella okay and safe?” Um, excuse me, who is this and why are you asking about my child. She is right here with me and we are fine. It was a counselor from my oldest daughter’s middle school. She frantically went on to tell me how I endangered my child and if it happened again they would have to call CPS.

    Wait a second, hang on. First, what does the middle school have to do with my ten year old and how the heck do they know her name and that she sat in my car for a few minutes while I went to the office? Apparently someone (whose name we can’t say but is a ‘reliable’ source) saw me walk back to the car, knock on the window twice and call my daughters name. Well the super sleuth detective agency in the office checked the records of the recently released kids and found that my oldest had a sibling named Ella. Ah ha! I was caught…

    I explained to the counselor that Ella was 10 (almost 11) and she was perfectly capable of opening a window or letting herself and my five year old out of my car if the temperature suddenly spiked from 75 to 115 in the few minutes I was gone. I was told that there is a no tolerance policy for leaving kids in cars in our district and anyone who sees a child alone in a car (no matter how old) must report it. WOW REALLY! I told the counselor how I felt and that the policy was absolutely RIDICULOUS!

    I forgot the mention that after the school called my cell phone they called my husbands cell phone because he was next on the emergency list. Thankful I have a supportive husband who thinks I am a wonderful mother and trusts my judgement. He is a tell it like it is kind of guy and he basically told the school the policy was lame and they needed to spend their valuable time on something else and he is absolutely sure our children were never in danger.. (Although I am sure he didn’t say it as kindly – he was pissed to be interrupted at work for something so inconsequential).

    I am now on ‘The List’ of parents to watch.

    I understand the concern and yes it might help to save a child negligently left in a car but come on people! Before you report something make sure you have all the details, wait a minute for the parents, look at the kids to see how old they are and consider the reality of the weather before you get your nose up in someone’s business. Grrrr.

  52. CrazyCatLady July 17, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    My rule is, (as I see it now) is if the child is old enough, and smart enough, to come into the store safely (navigate the parking lot,) then they can stay in the car if they want. Yes it is summer. Yes, it can get up to 100, but I don’t let them stay in when it is that hot. We do carry bottles of water. And my kids know when they are hot. Yes, I leave the windows down, and the doors unlocked as we have no AC and I wouldn’t waste gas running it for them anyhow. (If they want AC, they can come inside.) My youngest is 8, my oldest 13.

    Yet, driving my oldest’s friend home yesterday, she started talking about getting snatched out of the car. I told her and my daughter to read “The Ransom of Red Chief”. Most people just don’t want kids that are not their own!

    Last summer a mom left her two boys, ages around 6-8 and the oldest 12, in the car while she went in Walmart. A drunk guy passing himself as a police officer convinced the kids to get out of the car to find their mom. He was charged, she was not. But public opinion smashed her, it was sad.

  53. CrazyCatLady July 17, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Did anyone else notice how the Kids and Cars sight tries to pull the heart strings? I went to confirm the laws for my state (WA) and they want to make you look at the stories of kids who died before you can see what the laws are in your state. You click on the laws, and it redirects you to the stories, where you then have to click on the laws. Urg.

    I did find out that in my state it is not legal to leave a kid in a running car with the AC on. Which is not an issue – I am not going to waste gas on AC when the kids could come inside if they wanted. And I knew it was not legal to go to a tavern and leave my kids in the car. Not something I do anyhow.

  54. Emily July 17, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    @Candice–I’m just curious, what happens when you’re on “The List of Parents to Watch” (dun-dun-DUNNNHHH!!!) at your daughter’s school? Are you banned from volunteering at the school? If so, then I really don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Actually, I’m not sure I’d want my hypothetical future children going to a school where they’re surrounded by such crazy policies, and stupid people for taking such a blanket approach to enforcing said policies. If you’d left a toddler in the car on a day that was 30 C (or, about 90 F), then yes, that would be wrong regardless of the time frame. However, two school-agers on a temperate spring day, for five minutes, with movies to watch and iPods to play with, is no big deal. I grew up in the olden days, before in-car theatre systems, and the heat and air conditioning in my dad’s old Mercedes weren’t very good (well, they worked fine, but they took forever to get going), and I never died waiting for my parents in the car, of heat, cold, or boredom.

  55. Shawn July 17, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    In this day and age of global warming, heat waves are much worse than when we were growing up. So I understand that side of concern. And there have been incidences where parents (or pet owners) forget about the time, and take much longer to get back to their cars. And they didn’t leave the A/C on or keep the windows open wide enough, that a child or pet suffers the ultimate price. This is where the fear starts, and finger pointing excessive. This is very irresponsible of these parents. And they should face whatever consequence is necessary. It’s negligent.

    However, this, like many other incidences like being kidnapped by a stranger on the way to school are a rare thing. Most parents aren’t that irresponsible. We actually do use common sense. I’ve left mine in the car, windows cracked open, not far from the place I’m ducking into. And never more than 10-15 min. On a very hot day, and/or I had to park farther away, I’ll take him with me. I also wouldn’t leave infants in the car for more than 5 min. Only because they are more susceptible to the heat than 4-5 year olds. Heat is different from cold, imo. Easier to stay warm than it is to stay cool.

    So if we use common sense in leaving our children in cars for a short period of time. “Do gooders” need to use common sense as well. If they are that concerned. Wait a few minutes to see if the parent comes back. If they don’t, and a lot of time has gone by (30 or more), than even I would be a little concerned. Take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the child. If the child is looks happy, and not in discomfort, than let it be. If the child looks under distress, then by all means, do what is necessary to help. But people shouldn’t be so quick to pull that “holier than thou” trigger. Because when they do, they do the very thing that they are trying to prevent. Ensuring the child’s well-being. Eg. what if the parent JUST stepped into the store, left the car running to keep the A/C going, child strapped in and happy, then 2 MINUTES later, someone walks by and just calls the police. No more than 5-10 min go by when the parent comes back to see the police. And is suddenly arrested. What do you think will happen now to that child? CPS gets involved, child gets removed from parents’ care, put in a foster home. What if the parents get charged, looses custody of their child. Child is now part of the system. And we all know what happens when a child becomes part of the system. Court costs, reputations are ruined, public scrutiny. All because some “do gooder” couldn’t use common sense, and just waited. A family’s life has just been ruined. And all for nothing.

    This is what angers me the most. People are too concerned of their own self-righteousness. To be that person they think everyone will praise because they “saved” a child. They want their pat on the back, and 15 min of fame. We teach our children (or at least we should be), as our parents taught us, to think before we speak and leap. Why do adults suddenly just forget this as they get older?

  56. Jenn July 17, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    I’m debating this issue with someone on another website and she claims that we have to be more careful nowadays (as opposed to when we were kids) because it is hotter in North America now as opposed to when we were kids. I’m in the Toronto area and it is definitely hotter here than when I was a kid but I believe that most of the southern US has always been hotter than Toronto is now. Can anyone help me out here?

  57. Jenn July 17, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    BTW: Toronto is in a heat wave atm and I left my 9 year old alone in my car yesterday while I picked up my daughter at camp. I told him that the car would be too hot and possibly unsafe because of how hot it would get and he insisted. I know that he knows how to get out of the car (even when it is locked), so I left him. I think he lasted less than two minutes before he realized, on his own, that MOM WAS RIGHT! I could have argued with him about what was best but this was a situation where I know that he could learn the lesson himself, without putting himself in harm’s way. Plus, I was able to keep an eye on him! If a stranger had seen him in the car, I could have ended up with a CAS or Police visit which is why I’ve been sharing this article with everyone to consider the situation and not to think worst case scenario first.

  58. Natalie July 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    @Jenn
    if it’s hotter now than 30 years ago, by how much? A degree? 2? 3? Not much difference between sitting in a car when it’s 95 or 98 F. That’s what you can tell your friend. There are reasons for and against letting kids wait in cars depending on the situation, that it is hotter today shouldn’t be a factor.

    @Havva
    That article was horrific. I started crying about 2 pages in and couldn’t stop. I guess it keeps with the mood of Tisha B’Av. It’s awful and horrible and I just feel so bad for those families. The article had a point in that the need to criminalize their forgetfulness probably stems from people’s need to say to themselves that they would never do such a thing because they are good parents. A way of putting a wall between them and the complete randomness of death.

    I forgot my daughter in the car when she was a baby for about an hour. Ironically, while I was visiting a potential home daycare. It was a cool summer night, the windows were open, she was fine. I got lucky. Sometimes stuff happens.

    The problem with criminalizing leaving kids in the car is that people are trying to prevent a result which does not happen from intentionally leaving your kids in the car for 5-10 min, but from forgetting your kid in the car for a few hours (or less, depending on the conditions) The law doesn’t prevent the outcome of people forgetting, even though the cases of people forgetting are displayed as reasons to call the cops.

    I think that when disputing this issue, accidents in parking lots, etc, need to be cited because not only is it a valid concern, but it’s also speaking the language of those who are so concerned for safety. That’s how you’ll convince more people.

  59. CrazyCatLady July 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    There was a recent discussion about leaving babies in the car by accident on one of my face book pages. It was amazing how many women admitted that they forgot and how shamed the felt, but relieved to know that they were not the only ones who had done so. Many felt better knowing how many people were NOT judging them – basically admitted that stuff happens sometimes.

  60. Helen July 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Lenore, I’m disappointed that you lumped “heatstroke” and “kidnapping” together as examples of worst-first thinking. Kidnapping IS worst-first thinking, because it’s so unlikely to happen and so random. Heatstroke is not random though – in fact, it’s a certainty if the conditions are right and it can arise surprisingly quickly. I’m not saying that kids can never, ever be left in the car, but I think you are doing the free-range movement a disservice if you are cavalier about the possibility of heatstroke and dismiss it as nothing but worst-first thinking.

  61. Emily July 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    While I have mixed feelings about leaving a kid in a car in general, I do agree most parents are capable of weighing the risks and making the decision. A friend of my grandmother’s lost her toddler when she was forgotten in the car for 5 hours, just a few weeks ago. While I do think
    ‘how could you forget your kid?” I get that it happens. I don’t feel anger at these people, just sadness, sympathy, and love. I say, though, I like my old car with roll-up windows that are often left down.

  62. Warren July 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    Helen,
    What Lenore is saying is that these laws and dogooders act as though heat stoke will happen anytime, any child is left in a car. Not that given certain factors, such as weather, and length of stay that heat stroke MAY happen. But these people see it as it will always happen. And that is worst first thinking.

  63. John July 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Interesting story Candice. As insane as this 0 tolerance policy concerning children is, it gets even crazier than that!

    You had mentioned that the school told you that “anyone who sees a child alone in a car (no matter how old) must report it”. This means if a person saw me see a 12-year-old child in a car alone and not report it, I will go to jail because I committed a crime against a child (by not reporting a child being in a “dangerous” situation). I’ll then get raped by big Bubba in prison and once I’m out of prison, I’ll have eggs and rocks thrown at my house because I committed a crime against a child.

    These child protective laws are full of lunacy and are causing so much collateral damage by destroying families and ruining peoples’ lives. The scary part is, I’m afraid they’re getting even worse.

    I’m not a parent myself but I certainly sympathize with what parents and children go thru a a result of these crazy laws.

    What can be done about this Lenore??

  64. anonymous this time July 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Helen said, “Lenore, I’m disappointed that you lumped “heatstroke” and “kidnapping” together as examples of worst-first thinking…”

    And yet, I believe they are inextricably linked. As I said on the Today Show site, back in the day, we were left in the car WITH ALL THE WINDOWS DOWN ALL THE WAY AND THE DOORS UNLOCKED. Because abduction was the last thing on my mother’s mind. She knew all about hyperthermia, and made sure that wasn’t going to happen.

    It’s the hysteria over abduction that leads people to roll up all the windows of their cars on sweltering days and lock their children in side of them “for safety’s sake.”

    If there were ever a misplaced strategy to support safety, this is it! It’s like insisting there be no lifeguards at the pool because you don’t want to risk a pervert looking at your kid in a swimsuit.

    Heat stroke is a real danger, but all of this nonsense about leaving the car running and the A/C on is all about “stranger danger,” as in, “I can’t leave the kids in the car unless I’ve taken all precautions to be sure no stranger can access them from outside of the car.”

    This kind of precaution makes a car into an oven in nothing flat.

    These recent stories of hyperthermia… were the windows down or up???

  65. Natalie July 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    The stories were of kids forgotten in the car, if you’re referring to Havva’s article. The windows were up because the parents were in the habit of leaving windows up, as most people do after they leave/lock their car. Nothing to do with stranger danger.

  66. CrazyCatLady July 18, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Yesterday, I left my kids in the car when I went into the store. According to the thermometer in the parking lot, it was 100 degrees. But no, I didn’t leave the AC on, I parked in the shade (which they protested) and rolled the windows down. Before I left the car, I went over with them that they had water to drink and could come in the store if they wanted. They are 8 and 11.

    You see, we had just been swimming in the river, and my kids were sopping wet, in regular shorts and shirts, and they were cold. The store wouldn’t have wanted them dripping in the store, and they did not want to be in the AC.

    Yes, I tried to get my milk before swimming, but the store where I normally get my week’s supply had a mix up and the person delivering didn’t leave me my milk. I have a cooler in my car just for my groceries.

    As I was going down the hill after leaving the store, a police car with sirens was going up. I hope they weren’t after me, and were doing more important work.

  67. Pam July 18, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Seems to me there is a lot of self-righteousness on both sides of this issue. I’m sure that will not be a popular opinion on this website! Interesting that the free range people’s solution to the “do-gooder’s” concern(whether justified or not) is that they should take time out of their undoubtedly also, busy day to wait around to see if a parent shows up. How long are they supposed to wait? Are they qualified to judge the health and well-being of the child, either locked in the car, or not, with the car running (or not), window up or down all depending on the judgment of the apparently infallible parents? I agree that our society spends way too much time an energy worrying about the welfare of children, but really, is the expectation that a passer-by has to hang around and wait for you to show up? Or are they supposed to just keep walking and assume you will be back soon? Do we really want a society consisting of people who don’t feel that they can get involved without being ridiculed and mocked as they are on this website?

  68. Warren July 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    @Pam

    Yes if you walk by my truck and see my kids, or dogs or both in the cab……………just keep walking darlin and mind your own business.

    It is that simple, and easy.

  69. Natalie July 18, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    @Pam-
    I see what you’re saying. I like it when people bring countering views here. We dont want to be a bunch of automatons parroting each other.
    But the request of “wait a few minutes” or to check out the state/age of the kids is for those who would call the cops without any thought of the repercussions. If you saw someone crawling into the window of a house, would you call the cops automatically, or would you investigate to be sure it wasn’t just someone who locked himself out of his own house? Or would you do nothing? You dont want to call the cops and waste their time over nothing, right? Calling the cops can do real damage in the case of the kid in the car. It shouldn’t be the default reaction.
    So if the person couldn’t be bothered to wait a few minutes, they shouldn’t be bothered to call the cops either.

  70. Amanda Matthews July 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    “Are they qualified to judge the health and well-being of the child”

    Well, is the child asking for help? No? Then they’re probably fine, and if you want to be a do-gooder, then continue on your way instead of taking time out of a busy police officer’s, the parents’. CPS workers, etc. etc.’s life…

  71. Lea July 22, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    I leave my kids in the car all the time, most often with it running as well. All of them know how to start it as well and often do. None of them have ever played with the gears, attempted to drive or closed a window on themselves. They all had plenty of opportunity to do those things, they just realize it would be dangerous and a bad idea.

    My kids often don’t want to come in with me and I know it’s going to go much smoother and happier if they wait in the car for ten minutes.

    I waited in the car all the time as a kid. In the summer the windows were always down, AC just didn’t work that well. I never carried a water bottle and I happily survived car waits. Sometimes I slept in the car while my mother ran errands.

    I have taken to leaving the AC running when the kids stay in the car more often than not. I do this because I fear do-gooders, literally sticking their heads in and chatting my kids up because they fear for their safety. People are more apt to mind their own business if the windows are up and then my kids don’t feel they have to respond to some random person bugging them. They know not to open the car or roll down the windows to talk with anyone, including the police. Whoever is at that window can wait for me to come back and not bother my kids. As a bonus my kids get to hear the radio and watch movies while they wait.

    I don’t worry about kidnappers. I know better. I worry about police and CPS involvement. That tends to turn a persons world upside down, even if it’s clear nothing wrong, dangerous or illegal happened.

    If people are so concerned about a child in a car they can assess the situation for immediate harm or danger and wait it out and see when the parent returns or take action of it looks like the kid is in true and immediate danger. They can go into the building it’s park in front f (if it’s parked in front of one) and ask who they belong to. If they have no time for any of that then they can just mind their own business and keep on going because obviously their concern isn’t that great in the first place.

    My kids are 7, 10 and 12. They stay home alone, the 12 year old babysits. If I can trust them to be careful and safe in a home with a heck of a lot more dangers than a car, I think i can trust them in a car.

  72. Lauren July 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    This just happened in my community. Seattle at 7 p.m. is usually pretty cool, and the father was supposedly gone for 20 minutes. I wonder if the baby was lethargic and slow to respond because he was in danger, or if he had been sleeping peacefully and was abruptly awakened.

    I can’t say, not knowing the full story, but I do think people are quick on the trigger finger:

    http://sammamish.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/deputies-rescue-3monthold-from-locked-car-in-klahanie