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Is it Safe and Legal to Leave Your Kids in the Car?

child sitting in a car seat

You’ve heard the tragic stories of children left in hot cars during the summer. Sometimes, all you need is a few moments to run into the store and run back out, or the phone rings just after you’ve loaded your little one into her child seat. Tragedy can strike quickly, and in extreme conditions, your child might be the one who suffers.

According to KidsAndCars.org, an average of 37 children die each year from heat-related deaths from being left inside the car. Countless more experience near-misses that could have ended very differently.

Is it safe to leave your kids in the car?

You only hear about the heart-wrenching incidents in the news. For every accident that occurs from leaving a child in the car, an untold number of instances happen without incident. So then, is it actually unsafe to leave your children in the car alone?

The dangers are many

It’s quite possible to leave your child in the car without incident. The biggest problem is that there are several variables that are beyond your control once you leave the car. Each one of them can be a safety-related concern in its own way.

Heat Stroke

As mentioned, an average of 37 children die annually in the United States from being left in a hot car unattended. An untracked number of children are hospitalized and treated for the same concern.

Heat stroke is essentially the body overheating, and critical body functions shut down because of it. The greenhouse effect from the sun’s rays can heat up the interior of the car to 125 degrees in must minutes. And, 80% of the increase in temperature happens within the first 10 minutes.

Child abduction

If you can’t see your vehicle, there’s no telling who is looking in on your child. A stranger may be passing by, observing your child alone in the car. Within 10 seconds, a kidnapper could break the window and take your child from your car.

In-car accidents

Snacking inside a car is commonplace for your children. Whether you’ve given them a bite to eat as a distraction while you’re gone or if they find a small object in their car seat, it can be a choking hazard. An accident can occur from the “safety” of your car. If you’re not there to quickly respond, the results could be disastrous.

Busy children

Some inquisitive minds are quite industrious. They figure out the workings of a seat belt, even in a complex system like a child seat. Those same little fingers know the door opens when you pull on the handle. It’s very possible for intelligent children to find their way out of their car seat and open the door. At this point, they are exposed to dangers from other vehicles, people, and even wandering away.

Running engine

You might believe that leaving your car running is helpful, but those same smart kids could find their way into the front seat, engaging the car into gear, or shutting the engine off.

As well, a potential carjacker could break into your vehicle and drive away with your kids unknowingly in the backseat.

Is it legal to leave your kids in the car?

Even though it doesn’t appear to be a safe proposition, some parents may still choose to leave their children in the car unattended. Laws are widely varied on this topic across the United States with each state having their own set of laws. There are no federal laws applicable to leaving your children in the car alone.

Here are the laws for each state regarding unattended children in cars.

  • Alabama: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Alaska: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Arizona: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Arkansas: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • California: A child under the age of 7 cannot be left unattended in a vehicle if the conditions pose a significant risk to health or wellbeing. Someone at least 12 years of age must be present. Also, a child six or under may not be left in the car alone with the engine running or keys in the ignition.

  • Colorado: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Connecticut: A child 12 or younger may not be left in a vehicle unsupervised for a time period that poses a substantial risk to health or safety.

  • Delaware: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Florida: A child under the age of 6 cannot be left in a car for a period of time longer than 15 minutes. In addition, a child under the age of 6 may not be left in running vehicle or with the keys in the ignition for any length of time.

  • Georgia: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Hawaii: Children under the age of nine may not be left in a car unattended for longer than 5 minutes.

  • Idaho: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Illinois: A child six years or younger may not be left in a vehicle unattended for longer than 10 minutes.

  • Indiana: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Iowa: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Kansas: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Kentucky: It is illegal to leave a child under the age of eight unattended in a vehicle. However, it is only prosecutable if a death occurs.

  • Louisiana: It is unlawful to leave a child under the age of 6 unattended in a vehicle for any period of time without supervision by someone at least 10 years of age.

  • Maine: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Maryland: It is illegal to leave a child under the age of 8 confined in a vehicle out of sight, without supervision by someone at least 13 years old.

  • Massachusetts: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Michigan: A child under the age of 6 may not be left in a vehicle unattended for any period of time if there is an unreasonable risk of harm.

  • Minnesota: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Mississippi: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Missouri: It is a felony to leave a child under the age of 10 in a car unattended when the result is death or injury from a collision or from hitting a pedestrian.

  • Montana: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Nebraska: It is illegal to leave a child under seven years of age unattended in a vehicle for any period of time.

  • Nevada: A child under the age of 7 cannot be left unattended in a vehicle if the conditions pose a significant risk to health or wellbeing. Someone at least 12 years of age must be present. Also, a child six or under may not be left in the car alone with the engine running or keys in the ignition.

  • New Hampshire: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • New Jersey: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • New Mexico: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • New York: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • North Carolina: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • North Dakota: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Ohio: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Oklahoma: A child under the age of 7 cannot be left unattended in a vehicle if the conditions pose a significant risk to health or wellbeing. Someone at least 12 years of age must be present. Also, a child six or under may not be left in the car alone with the engine running or keys anywhere in the passenger compartment.

  • Oregon: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Pennsylvania: It is illegal to leave children under the age of 6 unattended in a vehicle out of sight when circumstances endanger the health or welfare of the child.

  • Rhode Island: A child 12 or younger may not be left in a vehicle unsupervised for a time period that poses a substantial risk to health or safety.

  • South Carolina: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • South Dakota: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Tennessee: A child under the age of 7 cannot be left unattended in a vehicle if the conditions pose a significant risk to health or wellbeing. Someone at least 12 years of age must be present. Also, a child six or under may not be left in the car alone with the engine running or keys anywhere in the passenger compartment.

  • Texas: It is illegal to leave a child under the age of seven unattended for a period of time longer than 5 minutes if not accompanied by someone 14 years of age or older.

  • Utah: It is illegal to leave a child under the age of nine unaccompanied if there is a risk of hyperthermia, hypothermia, or dehydration. Supervision must be by someone nine years of age or older.

  • Vermont: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Virginia: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Washington: It is illegal to leave someone under the age of 16 in a running vehicle.

  • West Virginia: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Wisconsin: There are currently no laws in this state.

  • Wyoming: There are currently no laws in this state.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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