Leaving a Child alone in a Car – Yes

“911 how can I help you?”

“My car has been stolen and my baby is in it!” shrieks a hysterical mother.

So begins yet another example of the tragedy that can happen when children are left unattended in a car. This well-meaning parent ran into the 7-11 to grab something and left the car running for heat or air conditioning for the sleeping infant inside. Thinking to themselves, “I can still see my car,” these oblivious parents have no idea that a car thief can also see the running car, but not necessarily the baby inside.

The car thief jumps in, races off and parents are left frantically calling 911 and wondering what will happen next. Will the thief leave the car behind once he discovers the baby?  Or will he just dump the child on the side of the road, car seat and all? Perhaps the thief is so doped up he will not even notice there is a child in the car to begin with.

Or a parent leaves a child in car on a warm day, thinking “I’ll only be inside for a minute and she is sleeping.” Then he gets caught up on a phone call and suddenly realizes it has been over an hour and the warm day has resulted in heatstroke for a captive infant who can’t escape a car seat.

Perhaps it’s the parents who leave two rambunctious youngsters alone while they run into the local mall for a quick purchase return. The kids get to bouncing around in the van, suddenly knock it into gear and it rolls into another car.

These are all very real scenarios that happen around the country on daily basis. Parents who are more concerned with convenience than safety do not understand how fast their children can be put into danger when left unattended in a vehicle. Is it thoughtlessness? Naivety? Lack of concern for their children’s safety? Or just plain stupidity?

When police arrive on scene to a child found alone in a vehicle, they are faced with determining if a crime has actually been committed. Was this a criminal act or just a case of parents not thinking clearly? Should the parents be cited? Should child protective services be called?  Do parents deserve to be punished for the possibility they put their child in danger?

Many would say emphatically yes. They believe that when parents put convenience ahead of safety they should face the full range of punishments. After all, it is a parent’s job to protect their children, and leaving them alone in a vehicle could be thought of as intentionally subjecting their child to harm.

Other parents believe that, in the majority of cases, children are perfectly safe when left alone in a vehicle. Yes, scary things can happen, but that can be said of many situations their child will face throughout his life. This group would argue that leaving a screaming 5-year-old alone in a car to grab a gallon of milk from the store is better for everyone involved. In their reasoning leaving a child in a car as more along the lines of like texting and driving; yes, everyone admits it is not safe, but it only matters if you crash.

The biggest question is why any parent risk a child’s safety just for the convenience of not having to wake her to take them into the house. Or because they don’t want to deal with a public tantrum? While for those parents the benefits outweigh the costs, in the long run it will be up to society to determine if this kind of thinking is considered child abuse or just stupidity. While stupidity cannot be legislated, intentionally subjecting a child to harm can be. And what could be more intentional than leaving a child alone in a car?