Leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle may be tempting if you are merely making a mad dash into the store, but 19 states have laws against this practice. When you leave your child in a vehicle without proper supervision, you put both you and your child at risk of both physical and legal penalties. The law in each state varies as do the charges you might face if found to be in violation of the law.
As of April 2013, 19 states have laws on the books regarding leaving children unattended in a motor vehicle. These states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington, according to KidsandCars.org. Each state has specific circumstances that must be in place to merit a violation of the law. The age at which a child can be in a car unattended ranges from age 6 in Florida to age 15 in Washington.
Each state’s law sets forth the parameters and consequences for a violation. Some states, like Louisiana, consider that a child who is unattended in a motor vehicle without direct supervision is a violation, no matter the period, whereas Hawaii, Illinois and Florida place time limits on leaving a child unattended. These time limits range from five to 15 minutes, according to Safe Kids USA. In other states, the violation depends on the health and safety risk for an unattended child. In addition, a number of states -- including Michigan, Maryland and California -- a child may be in a vehicle if an older child is also present; the age of the older child can range from age 10 to 14, old depending on the state. Some states also place different time-frame rules on leaving a child unattended. For example, a child left in a motor vehicle between the hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in Connecticut has a stiffer penalty than if the parents left a child unattended during the day.
Leaving a child in a motor vehicle is not a risk any parent should consider. Not only can leaving your child alone cause you to become in trouble with the law, it also possess a health risk to your child. During warmer months especially, a car’s interior can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit on a warm day. The rise in temperature does not take long, a study conducted by the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University found that even on a day with an ambient temperature of 73 degree Fahrenheit, the interior temperature of the car rose more than 10 degrees in just five minutes, with a rise of over 30 degrees in 30 minutes. Heatstroke was the cause of death for more than 500 children who were unattended in a motor vehicle. The risk of heatstroke is not the only concern however, as fume inhalation from a running car, the risk of an accident and the risk of having a vehicle stolen while unattended puts children at risk.
The consequences for leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle vary. The state of Florida imposes only a fine of less than $500, but Illinois considers the violation to be a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense, and a Class Three felony for subsequent offenses. If your child dies while unattended in a motor vehicle, a parent may face more serious consequences, such as manslaughter, as in Kentucky. State laws also hold the parent or caregiver responsible if a child unattended in a motor vehicle causes the death of another person through an accident. In states like Hawaii, if your child is found unattended in a motor vehicle, he will be remanded to child protective services, if you are not located in a timely manner. Law enforcement and emergency personnel can remove a child from the car without regard to any damages to your vehicle.