Actions do, in fact, speak louder than words. The act of deliberately leaving a defenseless, unprotected child or, worse yet, infant in a car for any length of time immediately prompts the question of intent. When that time period and the surrounding environmental or other conditions produce an obvious risk for that child or infant, the question of intent becomes the primary issue whether or not harm actually occurs. In the middle ground, where incidents of leaving an unprotected child or infant in a car might involve shopping for a few needed dinner items, or a pack of cigarettes,or one drink with a friend, the question of intent might not supercede stupidity or negligence unless the incidents were repetitive over a period of time. As a matter of habit, a parent or guardian might leave an infant in their protective seat or a child free to wander about the car while they load or unload groceries from the trunk.
In so far as the law and enforcement is concerned, level of danger, degree of harm and intent all play a part in adjudicating the matter. If a parent or guardian is proven to have knowingly abandoned a defenseless child or infant in a car for an extended period of time with no resulting harm to the child, they are subject to penalty for neglect and possible endangerment. If, in that same case, there were extenuating circumstances such as extreme heat or cold, or risk of collision by other vehicles, then the fact of real endangerment exists and there would and should be appropriate penalties rendered by the court. If serious illness, injury or death occur as a result of this type of abandonment then the question of intent would be a high priority issue.
The phrasing of this question suggests that there might be cases where a parent or guardian innocently found themselves in the embarrassing position of being cited for having left a child or infant alone in their car while they performed a necessary errand of some kind and that the children were totally unharmed. Citation or not, there should be no doubt that situations of this type occur every day and to people from all walks of life. A look, perhaps, at the realities of leaving unsupervised, unprotected children or infants in a car may shed some additional light on the issue.
If an infant is left in a locked car in a parking lot even for a short period of time and somehow begins to choke, noone will be able to provide assistance. If a child is left in a car with the keys in the ignition or, worse yet, with the motor running, and curiosity gets the best of him or her, any number of very serious problems may arise. Even if the car is not started, the keys will allow the power windows to open and close, a situation which has caused injury. Cars parked on a hill or incline have been set in motion by release of the emergency brake where park has not been properly set before leaving the car.
Without belaboring the point, there should be no doubt that, for a multitude of undeniable reasons, leaving a child or infant alone in a car for any length of time is risky business and should be avoided at all cost not out of fear of citation but of danger to the children. To do so where there is obvious potential for harm to the child or infant, whether that harm occurred or not, is criminally negligent behavior and should be prosecuted. In the case where serious harm or death does occur, the law should consider the possibility of malicious intent and prosecute accordingly.