It is a scenario you have likely faced: You are running errands and you notice your child has fallen asleep, yet you dread waking him. You need to run into the store. Do you leave him in the car? The answer is always no, because even a short time alone in a motor vehicle can pose a significant health risk for your child. Despite the dangers of leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle, only 19 states currently have a law with penalties clearly stated. One of those states is Tennessee and the law is clear in its intent: Never leave your child alone in a motor vehicle.
Tennessee law states that a child under the age of seven cannot be left in a motor vehicle unattended unless in the care of someone over the age of 13, according to Tennessee Acts 2007, Ch. 214, § 4 Code 55‐10‐803. The law applies to vehicles left in a public area or an area frequented by the public, including parking lots, trailer parks, apartment complexes and shopping centers.
The law on leaving a child unattended in a vehicle does have some limitations. For a parent or caregiver to be accountable, the child must be in a condition that poses a risk to her health or safety. The law does not spell out what it considers a risk. You are violating the law if you left the keys inside the vehicle or if you left if the motor running.
Several risks exist when you leave your child unattended in a motor vehicle. The temperature inside a closed motor vehicle can rise to lethal temperatures within five minutes, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Even a mild day that has temperatures of only 60 degrees will result in an interior-car temperature of at least 110 degrees, with the temperature rising by 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes. When leaving the keys in the motor vehicle, you also risk the chance of a child working herself free of a seat belt or car seat and causing damage to other motor vehicles if the car is in drive. Running motor vehicles can also seem like an easy target for a thief, even if a child is inside.
In Tennessee, an adult in violation of the law is subject to a Class B misdemeanor and a fine of $200 for a first offense and a fine of $500 for subsequent offenses. If an injury occurs as a result of violation of 55‐10‐803, you might be subject to a Class A misdemeanor or a Class A, B or D felony for child endangerment. Death as a result of leaving a child unattended is a Class E felony for criminally negligent homicide.