Confession: Like Amy Graff at The Mommy Files, I often leave my kids alone in the car when its parked in the driveway. I don’t plan to do it, but when my girls, 5 and 7, are finally buckled in and someone says, “Oh no! I forgot my library book/back pack/lunch,” it just makes more sense to take the 30 seconds it takes to run inside and get it rather than unbuckle everyone and start over.
Most parents are smart enough to realize that young kids shouldn’t be left unsupervised in a car for more than a minute, and never in hot weather. But when the car is in your driveway or in plain view — like when paying for gas, for instance — is it bad parenting to leave them alone?
According to the letter of the law, it depends. States have varying rules regarding kids in cars, and my own recently passed a law requiring any children four or younger to be supervised by someone 13 or older while in the car.
A local mom was arrested shortly after the law was passed when she left her three children — all under 10, one of them a toddler — in the car while she ran inside a grocery store to pick up a birthday cake. In 2008, Illinois mom Treffly Coyne was arrested for leaving her two-year-old in a parked car even though she was standing a few yards away with her older kids, sparking a debate about heavy-handed laws and a parents’ right to decide what’s safe for their kids.
Laws are there for good reason. Every summer, kids are left in too hot cars and killed. And there are a multitude of ways that kids can get hurt even left for a few minutes alone in a car. But I also think that parents who really know their kids can also make reasonable decisions about how much their kids can safely handle.
A commenter at The Mommy Files had good advice for parents, I think. A former police officer wrote these tips for deciding when it’s okay to leave a kid alone in a car:
If you do leave a child in the vehicle…
Of course, stop the engine and take the keys with you!
Is the neighborhood safe?
Is the vehicle parked legally on a flat surface?
Are the operating controls of the vehicle available to the child such as releasing the emergency brake, opening the trunk or gas cap etc.?
Are there any suspicious looking persons around the vehicle?
Will the vehicle become overheated quickly?
Is it possible, even remotely, that your short errand will be delayed?
I won’t be leaving my kids alone in my car out of my sight until they’re older, but I’m comfortable with the idea of dashing in the house for forgotten items. What do you think — is it ever OK to leave your kids alone in the car?
Photo: ninnet, Flickr