Year in Jail for Letting Kids Wait in Car During Errand? Rhode Island Legislature Votes Today

Rhode Island activist Randall Rose brings us this disturbing report from Providence, where he teaches college:

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Rhode Island bill would jail parents who leave their kids in a car, and is getting a public hearing today — Tuesday,  Feb. 7.

The bill (H5311 / S72) sets criminal penalties, including up to a year in jail, for parents who leave a 6-year-old in a car for over 5 minutes, even if the child is accompanied by a 13-year-old sibling.

Almost all cases of leaving children in cars are harmless, and parents sometimes face situations where they reasonably determine that having the child remain in the car is safe enough. Under the Rhode Island bill,  penalties could include a $1000 fine, even if the child was unharmed.

Given Rhode Island’s climate, there is almost no chance of a kid dying in an overheated car in this state during an errand. Deliberate abductions of children from cars are also practically unheard of, and it is also extremely unlikely that a kid would die in a cold car.

It’s a bad idea to penalize busy parents for doing things which are almost certainly harmless.  Existing Rhode Island law already says police can issue a warning if a child is left in a car, and that’s how it should be — parents shouldn’t be fined or jailed for harmless parenting choices.  The petition is here:

Petition: Don’t punish harmless parenting choices

The hearing will be held in room 205 of the Rhode Island State House, House Judiciary Committee, starting sometime between 4:30 and 5pm.

If I lived in Rhode Island, I’d try to go to the hearing. As it is, I signed the petition.

Yes,  kids can die in cars if left in the heat, or if left for a long time. No one is saying that those circumstances are fine. But as one of you once so memorably wrote to this site: Criminalizing the parents who let their kids wait in the car for 5 minutes is not going to bring back the ones forgotten there for five hours.  – L.


Letting your kid snooze while you pick up the birthday cake could become punishable by a year in jail in Rhode Island.


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28 Responses to Year in Jail for Letting Kids Wait in Car During Errand? Rhode Island Legislature Votes Today

  1. BL February 7, 2017 at 4:26 am #

    Why, oh why, can’t this be “fake news”?

  2. common sense February 7, 2017 at 5:59 am #

    you’ve got to be kidding. how stupid and crazy has the world become when it’s considered better for a child to lose a parent and possibly their family, go into foster care and basically be torn from all they know and love than to sit ,safely, in a car for a few minutes. do any of these legislators have children? or is it a case of them being so financially well off they afford a sitter for a 5 minute errand[or just don’t have to run 5 minute errands] and so can not picture others not being able to afford it. talk about out of touch with reality. and they’re saying it doesn’t matter if a 13 year old is with them! my kids were babysitting at 11. why don’t they just get it over with and say kids never grow up, we stay children all our lives and we need the “government” to make all decisions for us, since that’s what slowly happening. so it will be like “the giver” where they’re told each day what to wear, what to eat and what to do because “when people are allowed to choose, they choose wrong”

  3. MichaelF February 7, 2017 at 6:07 am #

    ” how stupid and crazy has the world become when it’s considered better for a child to lose a parent and possibly their family, go into foster care and basically be torn from all they know and love than to sit ,safely, in a car for a few minutes. do any of these legislators have children?”

    Alternative Facts and hysteria are better for Legislatures to show how they are protecting the children, rather than a boring old reality where in 99.99999999999% of the cases nothing happens.

  4. JTW February 7, 2017 at 6:46 am #

    “Why, oh why, can’t this be “fake news”?”

    fake news causes bills like this to become real…

  5. David Veatch February 7, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    FWIW, I signed the following: “I cannot wait until we’ve moved up the maturity curve enough to recognize the ridiculousness of this and similar legislation. You may as well dunk me in a pond to see if I float. Please do not let irrational fear or political lobbying penalize parents for making relatively safe choices. Driving the child to the grocery store is statistically more likely to result in injury or death than leaving the child in a comfortable parked car. I do not even believe a warning is warranted, much less jail time. I cannot fathom the logic that dictates removing a parent from a child’s life for a year is less harmful to that child than leaving a child in a car while going into the store to get milk.”

  6. Ben in RI February 7, 2017 at 8:42 am #

    I live in RI and I’ve written both my state rep and senator to oppose this ridiculous bill. Unfortunately, neither of them list phone numbers in their contact info. At least my state senator has always responded to me when I’ve emailed him about bills.

  7. Dolly February 7, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    5 minutes? that could be just the time to return the cart or pay for gas. outrageous.

  8. dizzerm February 7, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    wow. I did that so many times as a parent when my kids were little. I locked the doors up and hurried in to get milk or whatever.

  9. Richard February 7, 2017 at 11:24 am #

    Watch out for the idea that warnings are better too. That’s not attacking the idea that this is inherently dangerous, and worse if it actually was dangerous it would be completely inappropriate. No matter how you think of the idea, giving someone a warning about it is always the incorrect answer.

  10. Kerry February 7, 2017 at 11:56 am #

    This is idiotic. Moreover, if we go down this road I’m willing to bet that elder caregivers will be the next target.

  11. Jess February 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    So a 12 year old can babysit a younger kid at the house, but a 13 year old can’t watch a kid for five minutes in the car? Where has all the logic gone?

  12. SKL February 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    I hope they vote this down. But if they don’t, they’d better inform all parents of it. This is so broad-reaching that it’s sure to catch some unsuspecting parent making a safe, logical parenting decision – and ruin several lives. :/

  13. John B. February 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    Quote: “So a 12 year old can babysit a younger kid at the house, but a 13 year old can’t watch a kid for five minutes in the car? Where has all the logic gone?”

    Shhhhh! Don’t give’em any ideas. If they see that, they might raise the babysitting age to 18!

  14. Rhodykat February 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Patriots are at the Dunk to celebrate their Superbiwl victory right as this hearing starts. Submit written testimony – with the weather keeping everyone out of Boston it is going to be a mess finding parking at the StateHouse.

  15. Backroads February 7, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

    Because jailed parents are always good for families.

  16. Eyes Rolling February 7, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    Wow, it costs Rhode Island residents over $49,000 a year to incarcerate someone ( This is not a $49K crime, in fact it shouldn’t be criminal at all.

  17. Rebel mom February 7, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    Signed the petition!

  18. LGB February 7, 2017 at 3:30 pm #

    Last week, my preschooler came literally within an inch of his death in a shopping center parking lot.

    I don’t know what made that SUV driver stop backing out a split second in time–my blood-curdling scream or the God-send invention of the back-up camera.

    I just know that my kids would have been a lot safer if I’d just run into the store alone to get the milk.

    Risk is complicated stuff requiring moment-by-moment discernment from parents. Had it been a 90-degree day, the risk-benefit ratio would have favored me bringing the kids in with me. But on a rainy day in a low-crime neighborhood, I’m certain that had I let them wait in the car–judgment from others be damned–I wouldn’t have found myself sobbing hysterically on the sidewalk and hugging my confused little boy.

    The Rhode Island legislature wants to take away from parents the right to make their own safety assessments. But after my son’s close call, I’m concerned that this legislation will end up taking more lives than it saves.

    I just wish that I lived in Rhode Island and could testify.

  19. Mya Greene February 7, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

    This also takes away the rights of the children. They should be able to have some say as to whether to wait in the car. It sends the message that they, as a whole diverse group are incompetent. Sounds vaguely like the executive order that was all the rage recently.

  20. Steve February 7, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

    Fear your government. It is not on your side.

  21. SanityAnyone? February 7, 2017 at 8:24 pm #

    How did they vote? I don’t see the results here yet:

    I hate to see good parents threatened like this.

  22. Harrow February 7, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

    I kinda like sections 1 and 3…

  23. BL February 8, 2017 at 4:19 am #

    Make America Free-Range Again!

  24. Hazel February 8, 2017 at 4:53 am #

    LGB raises a very important point.

    Would it be possible for someone on here (or a group working together) to try and collect state-by-state statistics for the number of children injured or killed per year in parking lot accidents? It’s something that could be beneficial for the free range movement as a whole. That way, if people in any state began to discuss this (it seems to come up pretty regularly), the statistic could easily be brought out to hammer them with. No, statistics are not always the answer, but they could really help to calm down hysteria sometimes. People do love statistics and if it can be shown that the law would be based on fear, not facts, this could reach some people.

    Also puts a stop to the “yes it it may be excessive, but if only one child is saved…” cries. Present to these people the thought of how they would feel if more children were killed because of a rise in the (more probable) parking lot accidents? At the very least, if they are going to insist on that kind of thinking, they have to go with the least risky option, else they are being inconsistent. And if they point out the kidnapping and say you’re not taking that into account, you could either have that statistic ready too, or point out that they are also not taking into account the risk of a child being injured in the store, by other children, grocery carts, heavy things falling on them, etc.

    If that turns them into a gibbering wreck at the thought of all this terrible danger. switch to soothing – “yeah, life can be dangerous in all sorts of ways. But isn’t it really amazing that we can equip the child to be better able to do things for themselves? Then they can help protect themselves! And if we’re all working to live life in the safest ways we can – without restricting the child as much as possible – this gives the best possible outcome – a happier, more independent, safer child”.

    Also point out that yeah, tragic cases of kids dying in hot cars happens. It’s awful. But see if you can find out which kids tend to die. The figures are probably so low that you can’t really get a meaningful average, but I’d suspect that most of them are babies. Babies are unable to regulate their own body temperature as well as older children or adults and can do nothing for themselves, so if they get too hot, poor little things can be screwed. On the other hand, a five year old can drink water if they have it, could potentially open a window depending on the design of the car, and certainly if they were with an older child, they’d probably be even safer, especially if that older kid was left with a a cell phone to call for help if needed.

    Kids aren’t like dogs, remind them. Dogs are in real trouble in hot cars because they can only cool themselves down by panting and sweating through their paw pads. They don’t sweat anywhere else, they’re covered in fur and lose water very quickly through panting. Humans can sweat all over.

  25. James Pollock February 8, 2017 at 7:31 am #

    Looking at the actual language at the tracking site referenced above, I don’t think they’re actually trying to attach a 1-year prison sentence to the crime.

    Legally speaking, there’s a magic dividing line, with crimes punishable by less than 1 year of jail on one side and crimes punishable by 1 year or more on the other side, and I think they’re saying it’s punishable by “1 year or less” not to mean “this crime carries a one-year jail term” but rather, to say that “this is a misdemeanor and not a felony”. Yes, that’s not comforting if you think it shouldn’t be a crime at all, but it’s not as scary as it’s being made out to be.

    The problem is that A) although usually kids are just fine in car for a while, sometimes they are not, and B) it’s difficult to beg a firm dividing line between “safe” and “dangerous”. That line is different for different kids, and different circumstances. There have been both hot-car and cold-car deaths, which are tragic, but take more than 5 minutes. Hot-car deaths of children are not caused by someone who says “you know what? My infant will be fine in this car all day in the parking lot of my employer.” They’re caused by people who don’t know their kid is in their car all day in the parking lot of their employer.
    A kid in a car with a cellphone they know how to use is probably fine in all but the most sketchy of neighborhoods in the peak of riot season (and having a parent there probably doesn’t help much… Micheal Jordan’s father was murdered in his car, and so was Bill Cosby’s son. I can only assume that some people NOT related to famous people have been killed in their cars, too.)
    The biggest danger, though, is what happens when the kid needs a bathroom. They get out of the car, and go looking for one. Bathrooms aren’t particularly dangerous, except, apparently, in North Carolina, where the bathrooms are filled with dangerous transgender sex predators. But in between the nice, safe-ish car and the nice, safe-ish bathroom are a number of dangers which turn out to be real. And… and this is important… parents don’t always do a good job of assessing circumstances. I don’t know that criminal law is the best way to correct poor parenting, but I don’t see a lot of alternatives, either.

    Meh. The people of Rhode Island voted for these people. 100% of my offspring have reached majority, and it seems very unlikely that any of my still-hypothetical grandchildren will be subject to RI law. If this is the kind of law the people of RI want, they can have it (as far as I’m concerned), and if it is something they don’t want, they, not I, can tell their legislators.

  26. BL February 8, 2017 at 9:06 am #

    @James Pollock
    “f this is the kind of law the people of RI want, they can have it (as far as I’m concerned), and if it is something they don’t want, they, not I, can tell their legislators.”

    When one or more states have laws like this, it makes it that much harder to fight in other states: “do we care any less about our children than the people of Rhode Island?”

    It could even happen in Oregon.

  27. Donna February 8, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Please call if you live in Rhode Island, however the government of Rhode Island couldn’t possibly care less what the people of New York or Georgia or California or any state other than Rhode Island think about their laws.

  28. James Pollock February 8, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    “It could even happen in Oregon.”

    It could, and if it were proposed here, I might take an interest.

    I assure you, however, that legislators in Oregon don’t give a crap if someone in, say, Rhode Island, has an opinion about pending legislation unless they are prepared to back their concern with a sizable campaign contribution (and maybe not even then, although they WILL cash the check.).