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Is It Illegal to Leave a Child in a Car?

Preventing Hot Car Deaths & Criminal Charges

You’ve likely heard the stories about parents forgetting their children in vehicles, leading to injuries and death as a result. As crazy as it sounds to forget your child in a car, it’s not as uncommon as you may think. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports heatstroke to be one of the leading causes of non-crash-related fatalities among children.

With summer in full swing, temperatures are skyrocketing. This could be deadly for children because they are most vulnerable to heatstroke, particularly, when left alone in hot vehicles. When a child’s body temperature reaches about 104 degrees and their thermoregulatory system gets overwhelmed, they can suffer heatstroke. Should their core body temperature reach 107 degrees, however, a child could die.

This is alarming yet relevant information to be aware of, as even the best parents can leave their child in a hot car unattended. If you don’t think this could happen to you, remember that those parents who you’ve heard about on the news had the same thoughts, too. It could happen to anyone.

How Do People Forget Their Kids in Their Car?

Since 1998, almost 900 children have died in hot cars, while more than half of them were left behind by accident, according to

That being said, what could possibly cause a person to leave their child in a hot car?

You may be surprised to learn that the answer tends to be forgetfulness, not negligence. Parents are constantly overwhelmed and overworked as they care for their children. Raising kids is a full-time job in and of itself, so you can only imagine the day-to-day lives of employed and unemployed parents. As such, their minds are often on “autopilot.” Families have set routines, and any disruption in those routines can lead to forgetfulness.

According to Consumer Reports, the summer season is particularly disruptive to family routines because of school breaks, vacations, and other things. The combination of disruption and hot weather is a recipe for disaster.

The NHTSA estimates that one child dies from vehicular heatstroke every 10 days, and the summertime could exacerbate this rate.

Preventing Heatstroke in Children

As you can see, heatstroke is a prevalent threat to children who are left in vehicles. Whether they’re left alone for 10 minutes or 2+ hours, children have a higher risk of suffering vehicular heatstroke than adults. And no, cracking the windows and putting the air conditioning on is not an acceptable excuse for leaving a child unattended in a car (we explain why in the section below).

The bottom line is it is critical to prevent vehicular heatstroke in children at all costs. It’s better to be safe than sorry. For these reasons and more, we strongly encourage parents, guardians, and caretakers to be mindful of the following insights:

  • It is never okay to leave a child alone in or around a car for any reason.
  • Even in cooler temperatures, vehicles can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. An outside temperature in the mid-60s can cause a vehicle’s interior temperature to rise above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The inside temperature of a car can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes.
  • Heatstroke does not only occur during the summertime or in the Sun Belt States. This deadly issue can occur at any time of year, in any weather condition, in any community, and for any parent.

With this in mind, we strongly encourage you to have a safe summer. Summer breaks and vacations are fun and all, but your child should not be put in danger under any circumstances. The law shows little mercy on parents who forget their children in vehicles (especially in warm temperatures) and imposes tough civil and criminal consequences if circumstances call for it. Thus, we urge you to follow the tips below to best prevent a fatal incident this summer:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a car. Not even for a minute.
  • Look before you lock.
  • Keep your vehicle locked and keep your keys out of reach; nearly 3 in 10 heatstroke deaths happen when an unattended child gains access to a vehicle.
  • Take action if you notice a child alone in a car.
  • Warn your children about playing in and around cars.
  • Install a trunk release mechanism so that kids can’t get trapped inside the trunk.
  • Get your kids out of the car first, and then worry about unloading groceries and items out of the car.

Heatstroke Isn’t the Only Danger

While we’ve emphasized the dangers of vehicular heatstroke, we also want to address other dangers of leaving a child unattended in a car, even for a short time. Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle increases their risk of abduction. Opportunities to abduct or kidnap a child are higher when parents and other caretakers are absent, so if you were to run into a restaurant to pick up your pre-paid online food order, you’re still putting your child’s life on the line. It only takes a few seconds for these incidents to happen.

Besides heatstroke, a child could also suffer from dehydration. Even mildly warm temperatures outside can feel overwhelming hot inside a vehicle, so don’t make the mistake of believing your child is “fine” because the weather is mild.

Another risk of leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is they can get ahold of your keys. If you left your keys in the ignition with good intentions, such as running the AC, things can still go wrong if your little ones get control of the keys. They could switch gears, open the doors, and even drive the vehicle away. When it comes to leaving your kids alone in the car, expect the unexpected.

Legal Ramifications for Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle

The worst things that could happen from leaving a child alone in a vehicle are injuries and death. Other consequences include civil and criminal penalties. Caretakes such as nannies and babysitters could get sued by a child’s parents for leaving the child in a car unattended and subsequently causing their injuries or death.

Parents, guardians, and caretakers could face criminal charges such as child abuse, child endangerment, reckless behavior, and more. That being said, it’s important to be aware of your own actions and surroundings to best avoid these devastating repercussions. By that same token, if you see a child left alone in a hot vehicle unattended, do something.

No matter how good of a parent you may be, you are still human, and humans make mistakes. If you’re facing legal trouble for leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, you should get in touch with our firm to learn your legal options. Contact (937) 403-9033 today!