If Only She’d Let Her Child Wait in the Car Unsupervised

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Here’s a piece of mine ran on the newish site Heat fybesdrrsz
Street
. I wanted to share it with you too — with an update:

Whenever I suggest that it should be up to the parents to decide if it makes sense to take a child out of the car while they run a brief errand, someone smugly reminds me of this or that tragic story of a child who died in a car.

Almost always (I’d say always, but there may be an outlier), it is the story of a child forgotten there for hours, not simply waiting while mom gets the milk or dry cleaning. But people feel that this extremely rare death nonetheless illustrates the dangers of something that is 99.99% safe*.

So here is this unspeakably sad story of a boy killed while crossing the parking lot with his mom and sister.  Ah, I can’t even imagine the sorrow. I hate writing about it.

I do so only to remind us all that there is no such thing as perfect safety. And since there isn’t, parents should be allowed to decide FOR THEMSELVES which very-safe-but-not-perfectly-safe errand-running option they wish to choose.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

SAN JOSE — A 6-year-old boy who was holding his mother’s hand was hit and killed by a car Thursday night in the Oakridge Mall parking lot in South San Jose….

He and his mother were walking at 9:34 p.m. when they were hit by a gray 2015 Mercedes traveling at a “low speed,” according to police….

In my piece, I note that California’s “Kaitlyn’s Law” prohibits kids age 6 and under from ever waiting in a car, if they are in “significant risk.” But what constitutes “significant risk”? The here’s how the law was explained by California Highway Patrol when it was unveiled:
“On a typical sunny day, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach a potentially deadly level within minutes,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow.  “There is no excuse for leaving a child alone in a vehicle, not even for a few minutes.”
So people get the message that no matter how short the errand, a child is at “significant risk” if left alone “even for a few minutes.”
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You can read the rest of my analysis of these odds on Heat Street. But here’s my sad addendum: Two more incidents of children killed in parking lots in July alone:
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If I wished to fan the flames of hysteria, I’d say that no children are ever safe in parking lots, not even for a few minutes! It’s a significant risk!
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But fan I won’t, because hysteria is bad. It convinces — and sometimes even legally forces — parents to make irrational decisions.
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Agreed: Don’t leave your child in a hot car with the windows up without A.C. on a sunny day. And don’t arrest moms who leave their kids in the car for a short errand when the kids are not in danger of hyperthermia. – L

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I wish we could always keep our children safe. But laws micromanaging parents don't do that.

I wish we could always keep our children safe. But laws micromanaging parents don’t do that.

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*About 30-40 kids out of 20,000,000 American children age 5 and under die each year in cars, and 80% were forgotten there or got in unbeknownst to the parents and couldn’t get out. That leaves 10 or fewer kids who die in parked cars in unspecified circumstances.

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44 Responses to If Only She’d Let Her Child Wait in the Car Unsupervised

  1. Theresa August 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    I just wondered how he couldn’t see the mom with the kid. I get not seeing a small child but a full grown adult next to the kid how do miss them.

  2. Jess August 3, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    The second article link doesn’t go anywhere.

  3. J.T. Wenting August 3, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    Theresa, maybe he swerved to avoid something else (like more kids jumping into traffic without watching…) and hit the kid.
    Or the mother and her children were coming from in between some parked cars, the boy walking out into the roadway first while mom was still hidden behind some van or SUV.

    Lots of potential scenarios here, and I’m sure all of them will be downplayed in favour or portraying the driver of the Mercedes as some bloodthirsty rich guy out to destroy poor peoples’ lives (it always happens here, that’s why they always mention make and often model if an expensive car is involved, never if it’s a cheap model).

  4. James Pollock August 3, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    “I just wondered how he couldn’t see the mom with the kid.”

    9:34PM in late July is dusk, if not full darkness… that tricky time of day when it’s not bright enough to see everything clearly, but not yet dark enough to put on the headlights.

  5. jb August 3, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

    Or he swerved to avoid the mom and hit the kid, who he didn’t see.

    Tragic and goes to show that everything has some level of risk.

  6. diane August 3, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    @J.T. Wenting: I also notice that about the car models mentioned. Years ago in the Houston area, there was a murder trial about a woman who ran over her cheating husband (twice) with her Mercedes. The story was never without that reference to the make of the car. I mean, would it have hurt him any less if it had been a Buick?

  7. Nicole R. August 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    I agree that we need to let parents choose which is the more sensible risk to take each time, given the specific circumstances of the weather, the errand, their particular child, etc.

  8. Denise August 3, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    I almost always do my shopping after my son picks up my grandson at the end of the day. This past spring I was walking down the parking aisle in the grocery store lot when some woman who was not paying attention turned right into me. I banged on the hood, screamed, and jumped out of the way. Had I had my grandson with me, both of us would have likely been injured. Even folks driving through my subdivision when we are out walking with him in the stroller are not paying attention.

  9. James Pollock August 3, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    “I agree that we need to let parents choose which is the more sensible risk to take each time, given the specific circumstances of the weather, the errand, their particular child, etc.”

    Except that there are some parents who cannot choose properly what is best for their children, and there are some parents who can, but do not. Some portion of the population of children need protection from their parent’s choices. That’s what’s wrong with “let the parents decide, every time.”

  10. Anna August 3, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    “Theresa, maybe he swerved to avoid something else (like more kids jumping into traffic without watching…) and hit the kid.
    Or the mother and her children were coming from in between some parked cars, the boy walking out into the roadway first while mom was still hidden behind some van or SUV.”

    Maybe. Or maybe the driver simply didn’t look out for pedestrians, but assumed he had universal right of way over people on foot because he’s bigger and faster. As a frequent pedestrian and cyclist, I can assure you that’s quite common. Anecdotally, I’d say more drivers don’t look out for pedestrians than do so. It’s considered to be the pedestrian’s job to be hypervigilant and jump or dodge aside.

  11. Anna August 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

    “not yet dark enough to put on the headlights.”

    Actually, where I learned to drive, the law is to use headlights from 30 minutes BEFORE sunset until 30 minutes AFTER sunrise, for this very reason. Is that not the law in this country too? And if not, why not?

  12. MichelleB August 3, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    Theresa, some people just aren’t paying attention. A few years ago our family of six was crossing a parking lot — two adults, two big kids, two little kids. You’d think a group that big would be impossible not to see, but a car backed out towards us and didn’t stop until my husband made a fist and whacked the trunk to get his attention. The driver wasn’t looking. (We were crossing the open space of the parking lot, not walking behind the car as he pulled out of the space.)

  13. Anna August 3, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    “Theresa, some people just aren’t paying attention.”

    That’s a fact! Twice in just the past two days, I’ve come close to being hit in a parking lot, by drivers swinging through their turn from one lane of the parking lot to the next without slowing down or looking before turning around the bank of cars that was blocking their view, despite the fact that they were crossing the designated area where pedestrians cross over to the store itself. In both cases I believe I would have been hit if I hadn’t yelled and waved my arms to get the drivers attention. Sadly, it’s very common. No need to assume it was this poor woman’s fault her child was killed.

  14. Theresa August 3, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    Anna I didn’t say it was that poor mom’s fault. I said that a grown woman is pretty hard to not see especially in a parking lot full of people. Maybe if people paid attention to this like they do every kid in a car maybe this would happen less.

  15. Anna August 3, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    “Anna I didn’t say it was that poor mom’s fault.”

    I know you didn’t; J. T. Wenting did. I was agreeing with you.

  16. James Pollock August 3, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    “Actually, where I learned to drive, the law is to use headlights from 30 minutes BEFORE sunset until 30 minutes AFTER sunrise, for this very reason. Is that not the law in this country too? And if not, why not?”

    The relevant law for California is
    California Vehicle Code 24400(b)
    A motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, shall be operated
    during darkness, or inclement weather, or both, with at least two
    lighted headlamps that comply with subdivision (a).

    The statute goes on to define “inclement weather” but not “darkness”.

    As for why not, you’re free to take that up with the California legislature. (Although it’s becoming moot… many cars now come with headlights that turn on automatically.)

  17. Nicole August 3, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    This is the mall by my house at 9:30 in July it is dark! we went to this same mall last night at 9 and it was pitch black. The lighting in this parking lot are terrible! It is very very hard to see. The parking is terrible! Cars are squeezed in. And the lots are too small for the number of people that go to the mall so you have a lot of people circling.

    Obviously this not a case where a mom would leave the child in the car as there is no quick errand at the mall. But I understand the point Lenore is making.

  18. johnf August 3, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    “Darkness” is defined in section 280:

    280. “Darkness” is any time from one-half hour after sunset to
    one-half hour before sunrise and any other time when visibility is
    not sufficient to render clearly discernible any person or vehicle on
    the highway at a distance of 1,000 feet.

  19. NY Mom August 3, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

    What’s the point?
    The make of the car?
    Or whether little kids die in parking lots?
    Thanks, Lenore.
    Fact: more kids die in parking lots than in cars while parents buy stuff.
    Fact: more kids die driving at night than are snatched by bad guys.

  20. dancing on thin ice August 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    The fear mongers on “the news” (AKA “the opinion”) will show worst case scenarios of cars heating up.

    I’d like a better study that compares variables. Mythbusters compared black and white vehicles and the difference was only about 10 degrees. Much of the heating up is probably a greenhouse effect so check the amount of time to get too hot under shade from trees or a window shade and how many windows the vehicle has. Sunroofs or convertibles can also be tested.

    I suspect that blocking the sun from windows is the key since our car in a shaded driveway never gets too hot.

  21. Cammie August 3, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    I am not a mom but I also live right in the area and had a discussion with some of my “mommy friends”. One of them blamed the poor mom saying that “all children under 10 should be in bed by 8PM unless they are on the way to the hospital, summer, school year, or holiday.” And she proceeded to brag that she had never, ever, even once had the kids out of the house past 7PM for any reason in her 4 years of being a mommy and will not do any traveling by plane until the youngest child is around 10 because sleep is far more important than any outing and that any outing that goes outside of nap time or bedtime means you hire a baby-sitter. I asked her, “What if something goes wrong under the care of a baby-sitter?” and she assured me that she only hired certified sitters over the age of 21 and had surveillance cameras all over the house.
    Moral of the story: some people will ALWAYS find a way to “blame the parents”

  22. Warren August 3, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    Cammie

    The second moral is that some people are just whack a doodles like that friend of yours.

    Hell mine were coming to the drive in movies with the dog as well from just a few weeks old. Used to put a mattress in the back of the pickup leaving the tailgate and cap door open. Back into our spot and sit in lounges at the tailgate. As long as the baby was on the mattress you couldn’t get that dog to move from her side. I could but it took a stern command.

    Moral…..babies can and will sleep anywhere.

  23. Papilio August 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    @Theresa: Because he was an irresponsible douchebag who didn’t look out for pedestrians in the ONE PLACE where drivers and pedestrians are GUARANTEED to mix. I hope he faces consequences for his bad driving.

  24. ChicagoDad August 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    @Cammie, Wow! your mommie friend is crazy. All it would take to shatter her sense of invulnerability and superiority would be a major injury, a sick relative or a sudden bout of being broke. In my humble opinion, it is so important for kids to have a sense of resilience and preparedness to survive a night when they miss their bedtime, and maybe even help a sick, injured or grieving relative. The only way to prepare is to practice, even if that means missing bed time once in a while. You can tell your mommie friend that ChicagoDad says she is nuts.

  25. The Other Mandy August 3, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    My number one (and only true) fear is a pedestrian vs vehicle interaction. A year or so ago I was at the airport in Ft Lauderdale in the passenger drop off and a guy jumped into his truck and started backing up as I and my young son were passing behind. My mom and I nearly dislocated my son’s shoulders yanking him up onto the sidewalk as I banged on the guy’s rear window. Luckily he stopped, as I had nowhere to go and would have at least been knocked down.

    Re: resilience and flexibility, I have a friend who is very rigid about her daughter’s nap time and bedtime. In a way the predictable schedule is handy, but I’d rather have kids who don’t melt down just because they’re 5 minutes late for nap. A recent cross country flight and resulting jet lag wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t a nightmare scenario, either, because the kids have learned to roll with it.

  26. Beyond the "parenting books" August 3, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    Early fixed bedtimes for children are CULTURAL, not biological.
    Kids in Asian, Latino, and Southern European cultures routinely stay up as late as the adults and participate in evening events with their parents, especially on weekends and holidays.
    I believe the boy who was killed was of Middle Eastern Descent and 930PM was nothing for them. There children routinely stay up until midnight, 1AM, etc without getting cranky.

  27. Donald Christensen August 3, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

    Humans have an emergency over-ride for a life or death situation. When a life threatening situation is present, the reptilian brain takes charge. Logical and rational though diminishes.

    Unfortunately the fear hysteria has made this emergency trigger fire in none emergency situations. Watch enough CSI or news reports of children cooked in cars and EVERYTHING starts to look like a life or death situation. In this frame of mind, a child in a car unsupervised for any length of time will spark images of roasting children, or kidnappers.

    The ‘stress trigger’ loses fitness just the same as your muscles become weak and flabby when you do no exercise. The stress trigger started losing fitness (so much that it itself is dangerous) when society decided that any disappointment should be avoided like the plague. This started happening at about the same time when we started handing out ribbons for the 8th winner. That isn’t the only blame. Safety has become a ‘religion’. The workplace has become so hyper about safety that they almost require ‘stapler training’ in order to use an office stapler! My friend is a teacher. She isn’t allowed to hang anything on her walls that is more than head height. This is because she is not allowed to use a step ladder no matter how short. She can’t even use one that has only 2 steps on it. This is because she is required to have 3 points of contact at all times. (2 feet and 1 hand rail or 1 foot and 2 hand rails) She has to get maintenance to hang a poster on her wall.

    EVERYTHING IS DANGEROUS is the message we have been bombarded with for decades. This is having a tremendous affect on the amygdala / hypothalamus relationship in the human brain.

    I talk more about this on my blog and have recently added another page.
    http://www.onmysoapboxx.com/

  28. Donald Christensen August 3, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    @ Cammie

    Your friend sound like a perfect example of why the ‘stress trigger’ is becoming so sensitive that it’s dangerous.

    Kids roasting in cars is not the only danger. Anxiety and depression torture millions of people worldwide. The eroding stress trigger is a huge cause for this.

  29. lollipoplover August 3, 2016 at 10:19 pm #

    Any accidental death of a child leads to:
    1. Where was the mother? (Holding his hand? move to #2)
    2. Why didn’t she…stay home/be more visible/throw herself at the car instead of the kid, etc.
    There are no accidents wh

    I read about the tragic death of the 5 year-old boy in North Carolina who was struck by lightning. We’ve been to that beach. Storms can move quickly in the Outer Banks and apparently this family was leaving the beach, trying to get in their SUV when he was struck. I dread reading comments on these articles because right after the kind “RIP little one” remarks come the ugly “Didn’t they hear thunder? Who takes a kid to the beach in a thunderstorm?” nonsense and you realize even a lightning strike will be blamed on parents. It’s unbelievably ignorant and sad.

    Parking lots of busy shopping centers are nightmares. My kids beg to stay in the car vs. playing Frogger trying to cross traffic. I took my youngest to a big box store yesterday where I needed to make a return. She wanted to stay in the car (hot day…she wanted windows down) but I dragged her in because my return wasn’t in the box (had receipt) and I hoped her sweet face would help my cause getting my money back (it did). She is a rule follower and walks in crosswalks. This store had the crosswalks on the sides of the entrances, not out in front where everyone was actually walking. Why is that? I stop for pedestrians in crosswalks but maybe placing them in the locations where they are most used could make parking lots safer.

  30. Abigail August 4, 2016 at 1:13 am #

    My friend’s 3 year old was killed mid July in Northern CA. He was in a crosswalk with his family. They waved and screamed. The driver just wasn’t paying attention and responding accordingly.

    I think as pedestrian traffic in neighborhoods declines and we’re inundated with stories of just how unsafe the world is…drivers don’t expect to see pedestrians. We’re all just shuttling people around and thinking of the next place to be. Even in a parking lot – we’re looking for cars. I believe it takes concerted effort to train yourself to be on the lookout for people walking, running, strolling, biking, etc… it takes a more conscientious driver than most of us are.

  31. Backroads August 4, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    Abigail, that is just heartbreaking. As is the story of the post. Cars vs pedestrians… this is indeed what truly scares me.

    As for lightning, some years ago when I was working for the Boy Scouts a boy was struck by lightning at one of the summer camps.

    A mother in the office said that for that very reason she would never let her boys attend summer camp.

  32. K2 August 4, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    I’ve seen a lot of Moms with kids just walk across parking lots without looking or giving way to oncoming cars, especially at the school my kids go to. I’m just glad I didn’t hit any of them. People really don’t realize the high risks they take when they assume the driver “has it”.

  33. Anna August 4, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    “Even in a parking lot – we’re looking for cars. I believe it takes concerted effort to train yourself to be on the lookout for people walking, running, strolling, biking, etc… it takes a more conscientious driver than most of us are.”

    This is definitely true, but it’s a very strange phenomenon, given that every single driver in a parking lot either just was on foot or is about to be. By definition, a parking lot is essentially a car/pedestrian interface, but something about getting behind the wheel seems to make people forget that, almost inevitably. I’ve seen otherwise completely responsible, morally serious people show complete disregard for others’ safety in parking lots, and then get furious at the pedestrian they just almost killed, as if it were their fault.

  34. Beth2 August 4, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    JT Wenting wrote: “that’s why they always mention make and often model if an expensive car is involved, never if it’s a cheap model…”

    I think the point of the article is not, look at this evil driver, but that that we shouldn’t treat parents like criminals when they make a very rational decision to leave their kids in the car in order to avoid the real perils of parking lots.

    But your comment about the eagerness to blame the rich made me think of an interesting tangent:

    There is a fascinating TED talk that discusses empathy and socioeconomic status, hypothesizing that as financial security for an individual goes up, empathy goes down. One of several ways they tested this was by looking at different makes of car and their likelihood to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. They found a direct correlation between the expensiveness of the car and failure to yield to the pedestrian.

    So, yeah, maybe the reason the make of the car is “always” a Mercedes in these articles is because people in fancy cars actually do commit more traffic offenses relating to failure to yield.

  35. BL August 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    @K2
    ‘People really don’t realize the high risks they take when they assume the driver “has it”.’

    There are many people (I know this because they say so) who smugly think “they’ll stop”.

  36. james pruett August 5, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

    How to tell this… I built a device for $20 that cracks the window if the car gets hot. Simple, cheap. That way a kid could cry for help and be heard, plus, the car would never get too hot. Rain would be minimal and fingers getting squeezed would be minimal. All around, a pretty good solution. In line with airbag safety, etc.

    It could be part of DARE, or MADD, or the American Vets, or the Lions Club. Some group could tout this aftermarket fix to be added to cars in a public campaign. Win Win.

    If anyone is interested, email me at [email protected]. I have 5 patents, 2 kids and would love someone to fund this effort. If you have marketing contacts, I am all ears. It would look great on the evening news and cost <$1000.

    Thanks for reading!

  37. Papilio August 6, 2016 at 8:49 am #

    Look what I found on Twitter (what for some weird inexplicable reason made me think of you)!
    https://tenplay.com.au/news/national/august/parents-could-face-jail-time-for-not-walking-their-children-to-school

  38. sigh August 6, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    If 80% of 40 +/- kids who annually die in cars (I researched the national kids and cars safety site and had a very unsatisfying email debate with the woman who oversees it) are babies / toddlers forgotten for hours or kids who climbed in a trunk or car without the parents’ knowledge, that is 8 or less kids dying per year.

    How many are killed in the parking lots because they weren’t left in the car to wait? This is what I wanted to know, and discuss with that woman, and when I had young kids, my gut told me over and over again: in terms of risk, kid sitting safely in the car while I run into store is way better than cranky kid crossing the parking lot to come into store with me.

    I’m so glad you’re illuminating this obvious flaw in reasoning, Lenore. It’s a lot like the flaw in freaking out over kids in parked cars vs. kids in MOVING cars. What is more dangerous? What happened to common sense? Our parents didn’t even seatbelt us in the 1970s, much less fret about leaving us in the car. So what? How could safer cars and more awareness mean we have to now act hysterically about extremely low percentages of risk? It’s madness by any name.

  39. Common Sense August 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    Honestly, every article on this website just reads as “I’m too lazy to parent the child I chose to bring into the world.” Read a newspaper. There are awful things happening to children every day that could’ve been prevented if the people responsible for the children had been paying any attention to them whatsoever. Stop dropping them off places and relying on retail clerks (and other strangers/passersby) to do your job. Stop leaving them in cars. Commit to the idea that until your child reaches his/her majority, YOU are responsible for them in every way. Watch your kids.

  40. BL August 6, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    @Common Sense
    “… until your child reaches his/her majority”

    And then what?

    Well, we’re already seeing it. People in their 20s and 30s, eternal frightened children who need someone to look out for them.

  41. Warren August 6, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    Common Sense

    Lazy my ass!

    It takes more effort to raise self reliant kids to adulthood than it does to do it all for them. When it gets right down to it you are the lazy parent.

  42. Papilio August 7, 2016 at 2:52 am #

    @sigh: “What happened to common sense?”

    Common Sense: “Honestly, every article on this website just reads as “I’m too lazy to parent the child I chose to bring into the world.” Read a newspaper. There are awful things happening to children every day that could’ve been prevented if the people responsible for the children had been paying any attention to them whatsoever. Stop dropping them off places and relying on retail clerks (and other strangers/passersby) to do your job. Stop leaving them in cars. Commit to the idea that until your child reaches his/her majority, YOU are responsible for them in every way. Watch your kids.”

    There’s your answer: Common Sense has gone crazy.

  43. common sense August 8, 2016 at 7:40 am #

    just became aware someone is posting under my name…I use a lower case c and his/her comments do not reflect my views

  44. Erin August 8, 2016 at 7:54 am #

    And there are awful things that happen every danged day when you ARE being a good parent and doing everything you can. I used to be that judgemental…. And I had another mom say to me, “I hope your kids never do anything that Erik make someone else feel like they have to judge you the way you just judged me. You have no idea.”

    When that day finally came, I wept and ranted and then I apologized to that woman.

    Bad stuff happens and you CANNOT prevent all of it. We wish we could, but we can’t.