Never Leave Kids in the Car Alone

child in car
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In some states, leaving a child alone in a car can be considered a misdemeanor offense; the offense can become a felony if there are resulting injuries. Whether it's from gear-shifted crashes, sweltering temperatures, locking parents out of a car, trunk entrapments, or playing with windows and getting limbs (or necks even) caught, horrific accidents can and do happen in a blink of an eye.

Why Parents Leave Children in Cars Unattended

Without thinking it through, it is easy to understand why parents feel it is OK to leave a child alone in a car for a very small amount of time to perform a quick errand. These parents who don't think twice about leaving a child alone for just a wee minute typically dote on their youngster and would never willingly place him/her in harm's way.

Waking a sleeping child or getting a toddler out of a child seat in freezing cold or less-than-ideal weather is sometimes such a hassle when the errand can be done within a minute or two. But, while the actions can be explained, the consequences could never ever be undone if the unthinkable does occur.

The best parenting advice remains the same—don't ever leave a child in a car alone, even for a moment.

Dangers of Leaving a Child in a Care Alone

While not the only cause of injury and death from a child left alone in a car, heat injury is one of the largest concerns and one that parents may underestimate as a risk.

On average, 39 children in the U.S. die each year from heat-related injury after being left or trapped inside motor vehicles. The numbers have been higher in recent years, with over 50 in 2018 and 2019.

On a sunny 70-degree day, it only takes 30 minutes for the temperature inside a car to reach 104 degrees F (40C). After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees F (45 C).

When it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C) outside, it takes just 10 minutes for the temperature inside a stationary car to rise to a life-threatening 109 degrees F (43 C).

An examination of the 661 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for an 18-year period (1998 through 2015) shows the following circumstances:

  • 54% - child "forgotten" by caregiver (356 Children)
  • 29% - child playing in an unattended vehicle (189)
  • 17% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (111)
  • 1% - circumstances unknown (5)

Legal Consequences

Twenty states have Unattended Child Laws that have specific language addressing leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. The remaining 30 states do not have laws specifically against leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. Another 14 states have had previously proposed unattended child laws. There are 10 states with "Good Samaritan Laws" with specific language that protects persons who see a child in a car and take action to render assistance.

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • National Safety Council. Kids in Hot Cars. Published 2018.

  • Null, J. Department of Meteorology & Climate Science San Jose State University. NoHeatStroke.org. Updated 2019.