How Bad Is It to Leave Your Kids in a Car?

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Maybe you can remember a time when parenting was simpler, and your folks left you in the car for a few minutes while they popped into a store to run a few errands. Or maybe you’re just curious about the facts relating to what can be done if you see kids in a car alone. Let’s take a closer look at the safety–and legality–of leaving a child unattended in a car.

Is It Legal?

In 19 US states, it’s actually illegal to leave your kids in the car unattended. Should you leave them there when you run in for a few errands, you could come back to a police officer waiting to write you a ticket, or, worse, put you in handcuffs. In some states, this situation could even lead to Child Protective Services being called to take your kids from you.

That might sound like an extreme reaction, but there’s a good reason for this. Leaving children in the car alone can be seen as a form of abandonment, especially if the doors are unlocked and the car is turned off. Generally speaking, however, most states have a cutoff around age 12 or 14, at which point the child is not said to have been left “unattended.”

Common Sense

Let’s be clear: Leaving infants in hot cars on summer days is a terrible idea. Likewise, leaving young children in the car when it’s freezing outside could lead to a medical emergency.

There are gray areas, though. What if your child is ten years old, it’s a bit chilly out, and they insist that they’d rather stay in the car? If you live in a state with laws against leaving children unattended, they need to come with you. If you don’t, though, what’s the right call? That’s ultimately up to you as a parent–but most experts would argue that it’s always a bad choice to leave your pre-teen child in the car.

Running Errands with Kids

Generally speaking, running errands with very young children is a lot harder than doing them by yourself. There are a lot of extra factors to consider when you bring the little ones with you, including whether to leave them in the car for “just a minute.” Try to squeeze in your errands when the kids have someone else to watch them.

This allows you to run your errands while you know your children are safe and sound. That way, you’ll never have to face a choice that could lead to tragedy.