Leave child in car

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Sara Murphy didn’t have a care in the world as she strolled happily back to her car after school pick-up one day five years ago.

But as she approached her vehicle, she saw something in the back seat that left her totally breathless — her 11-month-old daughter.

“My partner was off sick, so when it was time for school pick up, I could have left my baby at home with him instead of taking her with me. But at the last minute I changed my mind and took her,” Murphy, who lives in Sydney’s Inner West, recalls.

“At the school I parked, and headed into the playground. I talked to other parents and even put my name down on a roster for fundraising.”


Murphy was in the school for 10 minutes. She didn’t realise that her daughter was in the car until she got back.

“I saw her smiling through the window and waving at her brother — the air just rushed out of my lungs,” she says.

Thankfully, in Murphy’s case, cool weather meant that her daughter was completely unharmed by the incident.

Despite this, it has taken her a long time to come to terms with what happened, news.com.au reports.

“I just couldn’t forgive myself,” she says.

For parents like Murphy, who have experienced a close call, headlines about children dying in hot cars are a chilling reminder of what they could have lost.

One such tragedy occurred over the weekend in Chester Hill, in Western Sydney. Emergency services found a 22-month-old unconscious inside a locked car. Police are investigating, but it has been reported that the boy had been in his grandmother’s care when he was accidentally left in a car.

“Nobody likes to think it can happen to them,” says Murphy. “But it can happen to anyone. It just takes a moment of distraction.”


And this ‘moment’ happens every single day around Australia — according to Kidsafe, the child accident prevention foundation of Australia, more than 5000 children are rescued after being left unattended in a car every year.

It’s such a common occurrence it has been given a name: Forgotten baby syndrome.

Murphy, who has read widely about forgotten baby syndrome describes “Swiss cheese Theory” as a way of explaining how easy it is for a parent to forget their child is in the car.

“They say that our lives are like slices of Swiss cheese, the holes are all over the place and when things fall through one layer, there is another right underneath to catch it … but sometimes, those holes line up and accidents happen.”

Children are particularly susceptible to heat stroke because their body temperature rises faster than adults.

There are a range of new devices that can be installed in cars to alert the parents to the presence of a baby in the back seat when they turn off the ignition. But safety experts say simple tricks such as leaving your mobile phone in the child’s car seat, or putting your bag or briefcase next to the baby might help reduce the number of children who are accidentally forgotten.

KidsAndCars.org president and founder Janette Fennell told ABC News parents should set up “layers of protection” to prevent a tragedy happening to them.

“The biggest mistake that parents make is they really feel this can’t ever happen to them,” she said.

You’d Never Forget Your Child in the Car, Right?


Sure, you might occasionally forgot to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store. But forgetting a child in a vehicle is a whole different story—or is it?

Each year, about 38 children die from being left unattended in a hot car, according to KidsAndCars.org, a national nonprofit focused on keeping children safe in and around vehicles. That’s about one child every nine days. All in all, more than 900 children have lost their lives this way since 1990.

When analyzing data from 1990 to 2018, KidsandCars.org reports that roughly 13 percent of children were purposefully left in a car by a parent who, for instance, thought she’d run a “quick” errand and came out to find her child dead. About 27 percent entered a car without their parents’ realizing it and couldn’t get out. But 56 percent were left in the car accidentally. A whopping 88% of victims were children under three years old.

  • RELATED: 7 Ways to Not Forget Your Child in the Car

Here’s everything you need to know about how this horrible mistake can happen—plus two real-life stories from parents who’ve experienced the tragedy.

The Dangers of Hot Cars for Babies and Children

A child is at greater risk than an adult in a hot car. That’s because a small body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s would in the same circumstances. “The internal cooling system—sweating—isn’t as effective in kids as it is in adults because an adult has more skin through which sweat can evaporate to cool the body,” explains Kate Carr, CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization devoted to preventing childhood injury.

When cooling doesn’t take place quickly enough, a child’s body temperature can rapidly rise to a dangerous level. If it reaches 104°F, major organs may begin to shut down. When it reaches 107°F, death from heatstroke is imminent. This can happen faster than most people think. Even on a mild, 70°F day, the inside of a car can become very hot within minutes, says Carr. “Deaths from heatstroke in cars have occurred 11 months of the year in nearly every state in the country.”

  • RELATED: Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke and Your Toddler: What Parents Need to Know

How Parents Accidentally Leave Kids in the Car

Whenever an unintentional hot car death hits the media, the public response is the same: How could a parent leave her child in a hot car?

In most instances, the child had fallen asleep, so there was no sound to remind the parent to take him out. And if a baby was in a rear-facing car seat in the backseat, there was also no visual cue: The baby’s head might not have been visible over the top of the seat.

This is a relatively new problem. Prior to the early 1990s, children were routinely placed in the front seat, where it was obvious that they were in the car. In fact, from 1990 to 1992 there were only 11 known deaths of children from heatstroke after being left in a car. After that, car seats were moved to the back. This is when airbags became common and kids riding in the front seat were being killed by them—63 kids in 1995 alone.

But backseat riding isn’t the only factor in heatstroke deaths, and safety experts stress that the backseat remains the safest place for children. Another major contributor—one that’s more difficult to comprehend—relates to the brain. “These are not negligent parents who have forgotten their kids,” says David Diamond, Ph.D., a neuroscientist in the psychology department at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, who has reviewed the details of many hot-car deaths and has spent time with dozens of parents who unintentionally left their child in the car.

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Understanding what they did, he says, requires grasping how two very different parts of the brain work. First are the basal ganglia—the “background system” that controls our habits. “It allows us to do things without thinking about them,” Dr. Diamond says. When you’re training in sports, for example, you repeat an action over and over to fine-tune your skills. Once it’s time to compete, the action is automatic. “Your basal ganglia take over and you don’t have to think about how to bounce or shoot the ball.”

Then there are the parts of the brain that control new information: the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. The basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex essentially compete with each other, Dr. Diamond says. When you change up your routine and do something different, then the new details have to be processed by the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex to override the basal ganglia’s strong desire to perform actions out of habit.

The basal ganglia play a big part in driving. “Once you’ve driven from Point A to Point B enough times, you can do it without thinking,” Dr. Diamond says. “You might not even remember the trip.” If new information enters the picture (say, your partner calls to ask you to stop at the store and buy milk), your prefrontal cortex and hippocampus have to kick into gear to incorporate it. “But it’s common to drive right past the store and come home. When your partner says, ‘Where’s the milk?’ you feel flustered because you remember the conversation, but for some reason you came home instead.” Why? Because you were on autopilot. “The basal ganglia actually suppress the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus from bringing that memory to your consciousness,” explains Dr. Diamond.

Stress worsens this phenomenon, he adds. “It affects how our prefrontal cortex functions and makes it more likely we’ll do something out of habit.” And those factors, ultimately, are what allow otherwise responsible parents to leave their child in a car. In every hot-car death Dr. Diamond has studied, something was different about the routine that day. In some cases, Mom made two stops instead of her usual one. In other cases, Dad drove the baby instead of Mom or there was some other extra stress. And the basal ganglia won control.

  • RELATED: 6 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Family Car

Coping with a Hot Car Death

For mothers and fathers who have unintentionally left their child in a car, the aftermath is almost incomprehensible: First and foremost, their child died. Second, they caused it. And third, the tragedy was completely preventable.

To make matters worse, there are also serious legal repercussions on occasion. According to a 2005 study from the Associated Press (AP), for example, charges were filed in about half of hot-car deaths. About 81 percent of those cases resulted in a conviction.

There is also, unfailingly, judgment and blame from the media, friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers. When Parents published a short article on this topic online in August 2013, many mothers posted outraged comments, such as these: “Irresponsible people trying to make excuses!” “People who do forget should get their priorities straight.” “Ummm, here is the deal. DON’T FORGET YOUR KID IN THE FREAKING CAR! There is no good excuse for being a bad parent!” And even this: “I am suspicious that these parents might have committed this crime as an easy way to lose unwanted children.”

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Beneath this harsh judgment is a desire for self-protection, explains Janet Brown Lobel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City and Pleasantville, New York. “The idea of forgetting a child in a car is such a horrifying prospect for parents that the only way they can deal with it is to make themselves feel as different as possible from the parent who did this,” she says. “That parent becomes a neglectful parent with whom you have nothing in common. Therefore, you don’t have to think about this tragedy because it could never happen to you.”

Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, agrees: “People try to demonize these parents. The logic goes: ‘These people are monsters. I’m not a monster, so it won’t happen to me,’ and that is the biggest mistake anyone can make.”

Image zoom Bill Milne

2 Real Stories of Children Left in Cars

These first-hand stories of children dying in hot cars prove that the situation can happen to anyone.

Taking a Wrong Turn

Brett Cavaliero, a 45-year-old father from Austin, Texas, lived this horror firsthand. On May 25, 2011, ten days after his daughter Sophia’s first birthday, he and his wife, Kristie, dressed her in a bright, flowery dress that had been a gift from one of her child-care teachers. He strapped her into her car seat in the backseat of his truck and started driving. He was running late, he had work on his mind, and Sophia was sleeping. “I drove down this giant hill, and at the bottom of the hill I would ordinarily make a left-hand turn, drop her off, and circle back to go to work,” he says. But that day he didn’t. “When I came to that traffic light, I made a right-hand turn and kept driving to work. Sophia was sleeping in the back. My mind went on autopilot and I drove to work.”

When he arrived, some of his colleagues were talking in the parking lot. He joined in and walked with them into the building, leaving Sophia in the truck. No one saw her through the tinted windows designed to keep cars cooler in the Texas sun.

  • RELATED: How to Keep Kids Safe in Cold Cars

Three hours later, Kristie came to her husband’s office to pick him up for a quick lunch. “We were driving down the road in my wife’s car, and we were talking about how beautiful Sophia looked that day in her flowery dress,” he recalls. “Suddenly shock came over me and I said, ‘I don’t remember what her teacher said about her wearing the dress she got her.'” And then it hit him: He couldn’t recall dropping her off. “I said, ‘Just drive back to my office as fast as you can.’ I could barely get the words out, but she understood and she called the child-care center to find out if Sophia was there. They said no, she never came in.” Kristie called 911 while Brett frantically called a coworker to ask her to see whether Sophia was in his truck.

An hour and 19 minutes later —after the Cavalieros had arrived on the scene to find Brett’s colleagues performing CPR and after an ambulance had taken the baby to the hospital—Sophia was pronounced dead.

To this day, Brett isn’t certain what made him turn right instead of left at that traffic light. He’s not sure whether he would have remembered his daughter if his coworkers hadn’t been in the parking lot. He does know one thing: “I made a terrible mistake,” he says. “I remember screaming on the ground begging God to take my life, not hers. I would’ve done anything in the whole world to save her.”

When Sophia Cavaliero died, her father was questioned by police. Charges were never filed against him, but that didn’t provide much solace. “I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter where you put me or what you do to me. I’ll live with this horror every single minute of every day and there’s nothing you can do to me that will be worse than this,'” says Cavaliero.

He never thought he would learn to manage his grief. But he’s getting there, with the help of his wife, who never blamed him, and supportive family and friends. He and Kristie are now the parents of 20-month-old twin girls.

  • RELATED: 6 Tips for a Safe Car Ride

A New Routine

It was Day 3 of a new routine for the Edwards family. Jodie, a professor and counselor at a private university in Cincinnati, had spent the summer of 2008 working two days a week and taking care of her two children: her then 3-year-old son and her 11-month-old daughter, Jenna. On the days Edwards worked, both children stayed with a babysitter near her office.

Now it was August and classes were beginning for Edwards, and preschool was starting for her son. Jenna would be with the babysitter Monday through Friday. “I could walk over and see Jenna, nurse her, and bring her back to my office when I wasn’t teaching,” Edwards says.

On Wednesday, August 20, she drove her minivan to her son’s Montessori school and took both children inside. “He was really worried about being in a new building, so we went in and stayed with him for 20 minutes, playing and helping him feel comfortable,” she recalls.

That was the last time the three of them ever played together. Edwards brought Jenna back to the van and strapped her into her rear-facing car seat. “I was talking and singing to her,” she recalls. “Five minutes into the drive Jenna started to sing in this little voice she uses when she’s sleepy. I had a child-safety mirror, and when I looked in it I could see that she was going to fall asleep.” Edwards thought about how much she wanted Jenna to stay asleep and finish her morning nap once she got to the babysitter’s. “In a very detailed way, I visualized getting there, walking around to the backseat door, unbuckling her straps, getting her out very gingerly, and covering her ears so the babysitter’s door wouldn’t wake her. I pictured myself saying to the babysitter, ‘Jenna’s sleeping. Can I lay her in the crib?'”

For the next 15 minutes, Edwards drove toward the babysitter’s. But instead of driving past her workplace and traveling another half block to the sitter’s house on the next street, she pulled into her office parking lot. “I parked my car,” she recalls. “My bags were in the front seat. I walked around and I got them out, and I went in to work”—leaving Jenna in the car on a 92°F day for the next seven hours.

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When Jodie Edwards realized what had happened to Jenna, she collapsed next to her minivan. “I had to lie on the ground,” she recalls. “I couldn’t even sit up.” Emergency workers and police had arrived, news helicopters were on their way, and her baby was dead.

But before Edwards collapsed, all she felt was confusion. She’d left her office at 4 P.M., eager to pick up Jenna—whose new photo she’d pinned to her bulletin board that day—from the sitter’s and her son from preschool. “I put my car in reverse. As I was backing out, I looked in my rear-view mirror and I saw her.” She stopped the car, ran around to the backseat while dialing 911, opened the door—and knew that Jenna was dead.

“I couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten there,” she says, because she was so sure she’d dropped her off with the babysitter. She’d carried her phone everywhere that day, in case the sitter needed to reach her. “I thought, ‘Who put Jenna in here?’ and I even looked to see whether someone had put my boy in there too.”

Frantic, she replayed the morning in her mind, and when she got to the part about asking the babysitter whether she could lay Jenna down so she wouldn’t wake up, she realized she hadn’t taken her. She began screaming, “No, no, no!”

In the chaos of the moment, before the police took Edwards away for questioning, there was one phone call she needed to make. “I had to tell my husband what had happened,” she says. “Remembering that will break my heart forever.”

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Jodie Edwards wasn’t charged, but that didn’t ease her grief in the least. “I have a sadness that will always be there. I just miss Jenna,” she says. When she was waiting to be interviewed by the police, there was a part of her that wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. “I wanted to die,” she says, “but I couldn’t.” She had a 3-year-old son to take care of. “I refused to let his life be ruined by this, so I made a commitment right then to do whatever I could to be a healthy parent for him.” Her son is now 8 and has another sister and brother, ages 4 and 2 1/2 . “They’re all beautiful and happy. And they know about Jenna,” Edwards says.

“We have pictures of her all over the house,” she says. “We talk about her all the time and make sure she’s a part of every celebration in some way.” Every year on Jenna’s birthday, they do something they think she would have liked at the age she would’ve been. Two years ago they visited a butterfly garden; last year it was the zoo.

But Edwards believes that the greatest tribute she can make to her firstborn daughter is to do everything she can to raise awareness of how she died—and to help other parents understand that they could make the same mistake she did, even if they think it’s impossible. “I thought love would make me immune to such a tragedy,” she says. “But it didn’t.”

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Parents magazine.

  • By Andrea Barbalich

Parents Magazine

It happened on a mild day in March, in the quiet suburb in Virginia where I grew up. My daughter, 2, was napping. My 4-year-old son was playing in the yard. I was packing us up to fly home to Chicago when I realized my son’s headphones had broken. I told him I was running to the store and asked if he wanted to stay with Grandma. “No,” he said, “I want to come with you.”

We got into my mother’s minivan and drove through the sleepy subdivision where I’d grown up, where kids ride bikes and plenty of people don’t bother to lock their doors. I pulled into a strip mall and parked. “I don’t want to go in,” he said. “Pleeeeease.” He was tapping animated animals on a screen, dragging them from side to side. At home in Chicago, I would have said no. And if it had been hot or even warm out, I would have said no. But it was a cool, cloudy 40°F day, and I was not in Chicago. I was in a place where there were as many squirrels as people and no such thing as daytime parking lot car theft. This was where I’d grown up in the 1980s, waiting in my parents’ station wagon, windows open, listening to music and daydreaming while my parents ran their boring errands.

Over four or five seconds, I noted how close the parking spot was to the front door and visualized how quickly I would be running into the store. And then I did something I had never done before. I opened the windows a few inches, child-locked the doors and double-clicked my keys to set the car alarm. Then I left him in the car for all of five minutes.

Kim’s son feared that his mom would be taken away by the police. Kim Brooks

When I returned, he was still playing his game, smiling. In the two years that followed, I replayed this moment again and again: getting in the car, looking in the rearview mirror, pulling away. I replay it trying to uncover something I didn’t notice … a voice, a face. Sometimes I feel as if I can hear something. “Bye now.” But I can’t be sure.

We flew home. My husband was waiting for us with a terrible look on his face. “Call your mom,” he said. She was crying. When she’d gotten home from taking us to the airport, the police had been in her driveway.

Had I endangered my child? Had I broken a law? It didn’t seem to matter.

In the months that followed, I pieced together what had happened. A stranger saw me leave my son in the car or came upon him after I’d gone into the store. They recorded him playing his game. They recorded my license plate. They recorded me driving away. At some point they called the police. Someone must have filed a complaint. But what kind of complaint? Had I endangered my child? Had I broken a law? It didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was that someone thought they had seen a child in danger and had said something — not to me, but to the authorities.

As soon as I returned home, I spoke with a lawyer, who did his best to persuade the police that I was a good mom who’d had a momentary lapse in judgment, with no history of abuse or neglect. The police wouldn’t tell him whether they planned to press charges — I’d just have to wait and see. And so that was what I did.

For nearly a year, I heard nothing. I worried and hoped for the best, feeling on edge in public with my children. I’d never been socially anxious, but now I found myself wondering if strangers were watching how I related to my kids, judging me when one was crying or wearing only one mitten because the other had been flung away when I wasn’t looking. I chided myself for paranoia. Then, one morning in May, I received a phone call from an officer in Virginia, asking if I was aware of the outstanding warrant for my arrest

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Virginia, like most states, has few guidelines about how closely parents are expected to supervise their children. As a result, I was charged not with leaving my son in the car, but with the misdemeanor of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

A few months later, not far from where my incident took place, I read about an African-American mother who was charged with child neglect when she ran into a gas station to buy candy while her kids waited. I began to research these cases and talk to other mothers facing charges, and I concluded that being deemed a “bad” or neglectful mother depends as much on what you look like, where you live and how much money you have to defend yourself as on what you actually did. I spoke to a woman who was taken into custody and separated from her daughter for weeks for allowing the child to play unsupervised in a crowded park. When such cases enter the legal system, we give judges and prosecutors leeway to decide if a parent’s actions are reckless, expecting them to apply common sense to individual cases. But what happens when common sense about what is safe for a child changes dramatically within a generation?

What happens when common sense about what is safe for a child changes dramatically within a generation?

“Did our parents really let us do that?” is a game my friends and I sometimes play. We remember taking off on bikes alone, playing in the woods for hours, crawling through storm drains to follow creek beds. And so many of my childhood memories involve unsupervised time in cars in parking lots just like the one where I’d left my son. I wondered in the days after the incident whether being back home, out of the city, had given me a sort of momentary amnesia. A lot can change in 25 years.

I often hear people say that the world is not as safe as it used to be, and I’ve come to believe this is true — but not for the reasons they assume. Crime rates are lower today than when I was a kid; you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than abducted by a stranger. And yet it’s hard to feel as if your children are safe in a world where neighbors don’t know one another and it seems as though strangers may be just as likely to shame you or call the police than start a conversation. I grew up in a time when I could play and bike in the neighborhood, largely because my parents assumed that if I ever needed help, I could ask a nearby adult. Today I’d hesitate to tell my kids to do the same, not because I’m worried that they’ll be kidnapped but because I worry about seeming like a neglectful mother to a Good Samaritan with a camera on her phone.

This was the incident’s greatest impact on my life as a mother: the fear it gave me and my children of people who don’t know us but think they know best — strangers with no time for human interaction, for giving the benefit of the doubt.

Now, when I talk about what happened, people are usually sympathetic, but they will often also express sympathy for the person who called the police. They’ll say things like, “If I thought I saw a child in danger and did nothing, and something happened, I couldn’t live with myself.” As a human being, I feel the same. But when as a culture did we decide that any unsupervised child is an imperiled one? And when did “doing something” become synonymous with calling the police? I do my best to resist the fear and isolation around us. I make a point of talking to strangers whenever I can and encourage my kids to do so as well, not just because studies show it correlates to happiness and a sense of well-being, but also because this seems to me like an essential part of building the kind of society in which I want my kids to live.

My case was closed almost two years after that day in Virginia. In exchange for my completing 100 hours of community service and parenting education, the prosecutor agreed to drop the charges. I felt a great sense of gratitude and relief, even as the fallout from that day burrowed into our family’s subconscious.

At the time of the incident, my son never mentioned it, and I assumed he was unaware of it. But of course kids are astute observers. There was a period of time for several months after I was charged where if I was out of his sight, he would worry that the police were going to come. Once, after his swim lesson, he came out of the bathroom and didn’t see me — I’d knelt to get his shoes. When I looked up, he was crying. “Mommy, Mommy! I thought someone was going to steal me.”

That evening, I sat him down and tried to explain. Mommy wasn’t going to jail. No one was going to kidnap him. There were people who thought kids were always in danger, that the world was a scary place. But that wasn’t what I believed, and he didn’t have to either.

“Most people,” I told him, “are not trying to hurt you. Most people are good. You don’t have to be afraid.”

For more from Kim Brooks, pre-order Small Animals— part memoir, part call to action — available August 21.

This story originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Good Housekeeping.

Office of Children and Family Services

HELPFUL TIPS TO KEEP YOUR CHILD SAFE: Never Leave Children Unattended In or Around Vehicles…NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE Pub. 5036

Adobe PDF Pub. 5036 (102k) in English and Spanish. Also available in Chinese, Russian, and Arabic.

Each year, hundreds of children are left unattended in motor vehicles. About 75 percent of child deaths in parked cars are due to adults leaving children unattended, either intentionally or unintentionally. Many caring and responsible adults are not aware or underestimate the risks involved when leaving their child alone in a vehicle. These dangers include: heatstroke or hyperthermia, body heat loss or hypothermia, setting a vehicle in motion, getting trapped in a car or trunk, and abduction.

The following are some tips to keep children safe from serious injury or death in or around a parked vehicle.


  • Never leave a child in an unattended vehicle in the warm or cold weather, not even with the windows slightly open or down, due to the risk of hyperthermia (heatstroke) or hypothermia (body heat loss).
    • Heatstroke can occur when the internal body organs or body core temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Heatstroke symptoms may include: confusion, combativeness, faintness, and bizarre behavior. High body temperature can cause irreversible brain damage.
    • The temperature in an enclosed motor vehicle rises approximately 19 degrees Fahrenheit in minutes, 34 degrees in half an hour, and 43 degrees in one hour. A body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit is considered deadly.
    • Mild to severe hypothermia can occur when the body temperature falls between 98.6 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms in infants may include bright-red cold skin and low energy; symptoms in older children may include shivering, confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness, or irrational behavior.
  • If a child is unintentionally locked inside a vehicle, get him/her out as quickly as possible. If the child appears to be suffering from any of the more serious symptoms listed above, call 911 immediately.
  • When outside of your car, keep your vehicle locked at all times and never leave keys within the reach of children.
  • Teach children not to play in or around vehicles and to alert an adult when a friend is playing in a vehicle without supervision. Make sure children understand the dangers of trunk entrapment (suffocation, heatstroke, and hypothermia).
  • Before backing up a motor vehicle, walk around it to make sure there are no children or animals behind the wheels or under the vehicle. It is also important to check your rearview and side mirrors when backing up, especially when children are playing outside.
  • Place a stuffed toy in your child’s car seat when not in use, and move the toy to the front passenger seat when your child is in his/her carseat as a reminder that your child is in the vehicle.
  • When driving with a child in a vehicle, use drive-through services whenever possible.

Pub. 5036 (10/05)


Superior Court Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. is pictured in 2001.

(Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

TRENTON — In ruling against a mother who left her toddler strapped in a car seat while she shopped, a state appeals court said today that leaving a young child alone in a vehicle — even briefly — is abuse or neglect.

The case originated in 2009 when the woman, identified in court papers only by the pseudonym Eleanor, left her car running with her sleeping 19-month-old inside for five to 10 minutes while she shopped for party supplies at the Middlesex Mall in South Plainfield.

By the time she returned to the vehicle, the police had arrived and the mother of four was arrested.

“A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent’s sight, no matter how briefly,” Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote for the three-judge panel.

He cited the risk of “car theft or kidnapping” and the possibility that “on a hot day, the temperature inside a motor vehicle can quickly spike to dangerously high levels, just as it may rapidly and precipitously dip on a cold night.”

New Jersey’s law defining child abuse or neglect says parents must exercise “a minimum degree of care” and avoid risky situations that could harm their children or impair their “physical, mental or emotional condition.”

Fisher, citing a state Supreme Court decision from 1999, wrote that abuse or neglect happens when a parent is aware of a dangerous situation but “fails adequately to supervise the child or recklessly creates a risk of serious injury to that child.”

Eleanor’s conduct fit that description, the court found.

Eleanor’s husband vouched for her as “a good and caring” stay-at-home mom, and two of her children attested she had never left them alone. State officials should have considered that the Middlesex Mall was an “upscale” shopping locale when evaluating whether she was negligent, her attorney argued.

“Even the most upscale of neighborhoods and shopping centers are troubled by crime … (and) the health risks of leaving a young child in an unattended motor vehicle no doubt produce more deaths or greater injuries than those caused by criminals,” the court said.

The ruling, which can be applied to similar cases from now on, does not specify the age at which it no longer becomes negligent to leave a child in a car. Anyone under 18 is protected by the state child abuse law, but Fisher’s ruling also speaks of the “tender” age of Eleanor’s child.

Francesca Blanco, a family law attorney in Morris County, said abuse and neglect cases are usually thorny and require close analysis by the courts. Setting an age limit for leaving children in cars could create some confusion for parents, police officers and judges, she said.

If the court had set a specific age, “it gets a little tedious when someone is a little over or under the line,” Blanco said. “I think the age of the child is absolutely key in this case.

“I don’t know if there was a substantial risk of harm. It was five to 10 minutes. In five to 10 minutes, anything could happen anywhere,” she said.

Eleanor was originally charged with child endangerment and requested a hearing with the Department of Children and Families to weigh the evidence against her. However, the department declined the request because the fact she left her child unattended was not in dispute.

The appeals court agreed.

“Such events are apparently not as uncommon as might be hoped,” Fisher wrote. “The parties have cited no less than six fairly recent … (cases) dealing with young children left unattended in motor vehicles.”

In a similar case, a mother left her sick 2-year-old in her car while she bought medicine for the child. The woman was not found to be negligent, Fisher said, adding that other parents in similar situations might also be justified in those situations.

But in the case ruled upon today, the judges found there was no emergency to justify leaving the child in the car because “Eleanor was only purchasing items for a party, and other adults were available to watch the child at home while Eleanor ran her errand.”

Eleanor’s attorney, Daniel N. Epstein, did not respond to a request for comment.

Ernest Landante, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, welcomed the court’s ruling and encouraged New Jersey residents to seek more information at the department’s website.

“Leaving a child alone in a vehicle – even for just a minute – is a bad idea,” Landante said. “Left unattended, a child in a vehicle is vulnerable to abduction and dehydration.”


• State reminds us ‘never leave children unattended in a car’

Heather DeStein

It’s one of the perennial mom arguments: Should you leave your kid in the car alone for a few minutes? What if the vehicle is locked? What if you can see it? What if the weather is mild? I’m not scared to leave my sons in the car for the three minutes it takes me to run in and pay for gas. I’m scared that, despite there being no law against it, someone might decide I’m doing something wrong. I’m scared that person might notify the police. And Heather DeStein is living my worst nightmare.

Heather DeStein, a 28-year-old mother had a 3-month-old daughter Reilly, a fiancé to drive to work, a killer case of postpartum depression and anxiety, and on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, a case of total exhaustion. Reilly had “really choppy sleep the night before,” she said, and had woken at 4:30 a.m., which meant Heather had been up since 4:30, too. Later in the morning, she put Reilly in her car seat and drove her fiancé Daran to work at P.F. Chang’s. Finally, blessedly, Reilly conked out somewhere between 10 and 10:15 a.m., just as she dropped Daran off. A few minutes later, she pulled into the Wawa three minutes from her house in Prince William County, VA, smack in the DC metro area. Reilly was asleep, finally. It was 36 degrees outside, and much warmer in the car, where the heater was running. The baby had on a winter onesie — “the kind made of thicker material,” Heather said. She saw there was no line inside.

So she got out of her vehicle. She locked it. And she went inside, where she kept the car in her line of sight the entire time. Heather got a donut, since she hadn’t eaten yet that morning. And when she came outside in her sweatpants and sweatshirt, she saw a man standing next to her car. He was wearing tactical pants and a long-sleeved polo. “You know there’s a baby in there, right?” he said.

“Yes, I was gone for like three minutes,” she said — three minutes which were confirmed by Wawa’s security camera footage. But Heather says, “All the man did was ask for my ID and go sit in his car, which was parked two down from me, and sat there. Fifteen minutes later he came back to get some info about my address.” Then, he said to her, “It’s freezing out here. You should know better.”

Heather says, “I started crying. I was freaked out. I said, ‘Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.’ That sort of thing. I was trying to cooperate in hopes he would let me go with a warning. There’s no law against what I did. I was in shock about the whole thing.”

After that, things progressed rapidly. Another cop car showed up with two officers. According to Heather, as they charged her, one of the men said he was “a new dad, and your daughter has to be like your third appendage, but he’s made mistakes, and he understands where I was coming from.” She was technically arrested, but released into the custody of her fiancé who showed up to get her and their daughter.

But it didn’t end there.

CPS opened a case. They showed up at Heather’s house that day and asked a number of ignominious questions — about her pregnancy, her mental health, her past addiction (Heather is a 18-months-sober alcoholic, an amazing accomplishment). Finally, the worker said, in Heather’s words, “They were going to make a safety plan. 3-month-old was left alone in vehicle, unattended. Says it will not happen again, and 3-month-old will be supervised at all times.” They said they would contact her fiancé the next day, but didn’t contact him until very recently, when he was told that they were closing and dismissing the case — on CPS’s end.

But not on the police’s end.

Heather is still being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a child. Her trial is in July, and with a court-appointed lawyer, she’s fears she could be facing conviction or jail time. Her lawyer urged her to plead guilty for a lighter sentence, so she did an 18-hour parenting course instead. He’s going to move for dismissal. As Heather says, “I’m trying to just get this over and done. I know I’m going to probably end up with this misdemeanor on my record. I just want it to go away.” She and her now-husband want to move to California to be closer to her family, and this is holding them back. “We can’t move because of it,” she says. “Everything had been falling into place, and then this happened.”

The nasty internet comments from her birth board and BabyCenter — the thread about it runs to 93 pages — have gotten Heather down too. Many of them read like some variation of Bjc0729: “You put your child in a situation where there could have been potential for harm. Hell, I don’t even like to leave my child in the crib with the baby monitor on while I’m getting laundry even though I’m only going to be downstairs even though I know she is perfectly safe sleeping. Call it paranoia, call it being a helicopter mom.” But most of them are much harsher, more judgmental, more hypercritical.

Heather says, “I wouldn’t do it again because I have this huge feeling of guilt these people drove into me .” This despite, as Free-Range Kids says, “Murders of children by abductors constitute less than one half of 1% of all murders in America.” Heather continues to take several prescription medications for the depression she’s suffered since she was at least 14 years old.

It gets worse. Heather was a police officer in New Mexico for three years and involved in law enforcement for five. There’s no law there against leaving a child in a car, unless it’s hot. She legitimately didn’t think she was doing anything wrong. Heather’s child was warm and cozy in her car seat, and in fact slept, car off, for the hour and a half it took Heather to deal with the police.

Moreover, Virginia has no law against leaving a child alone in a vehicle. The officer had to come up with something to actually arrest Heather for. Lenore Skenazy from Free-Range Kids, who has seen dozens of these cases and become something of an expert on the horrible chaos they cause, was confused. “I think it’s usually ‘neglect.’ How anyone could say ‘delinquency,’ I don’t even understand. Did she leave the kid with a deck of cards and some poker chips? Or a knife for backseat mumblypeg? Or a stripper?”

There could be a reason for the vagueness of the charges. In 2002 and 2011, children in Prince William County died after they were left in hot cars for several hours. In the 2011 case, Karen Murphy was charged with felony murder and child neglect after her toddler son Ryan died when he was left in a hot minivan for seven hours. She pled guilty to two misdemeanors. These two cases could be why Prince Williams County officers are so sensitive to children left alone in vehicles, no matter how long.

You may think Heather made a poor decision in leaving her daughter for three minutes (again — documented by security footage) to get a donut at Wawa. You may think that children should never be left in cars, no matter what the circumstances. But as Heather said, “As a new mom, I’m already trying to be perfect, and now the state is telling me I’m a bad mom.” A bad mom wouldn’t have made sure her baby was locked up and safe. A bad mom wouldn’t have assured that her baby was warm and comfy. A bad mom wouldn’t have kept the car in view the whole time she was in the store.

You might think it’s not okay to leave a kid in a car, ever. That’s fine. But you shouldn’t think that doing it for three minutes makes someone a bad mom. And you shouldn’t think that it merits arrest, a criminal investigation, a CPS investigation, and a looming trial with possible jail time. Skenazy says, “Truly Good Samaritans don’t turn in parents and hope that they spend months dealing with the cops and CPS and fines and courts. A truly Good Samaritan stands by the car and makes sure the parents come back in a few minutes.”

On the other hand, as Skenazy notes, “I am appalled that our country has become so hysterical that a mom could be arrested for letting her child wait in the car for three minutes. If humans died because they were in an unmoving car for three minutes, we’d all be dead the first time we had to wait for a freight train to pass.”

Heather goes to trial in July, after which she hopes to move on with her life, and head to California to be near her family.

There’s science behind why parents leave kids in hot cars

Morgan Hines USA TODAY Published 12:55 PM EDT Aug 4, 2019

Miles Harrison does the same thing every morning. At 5 a.m., before the sun rises, he sits at his desk with a jar of dirt. Dirt, from his baby’s grave.

He puts his fingers in the dirt and talks to his son. Chase Dmitri Harrison died July 8, 2008.

That morning, 11 years ago, Harrison walked into work.

“At about five o’clock, one of my colleagues comes up to me and pokes his head in my office and says, ‘Hey do you have a doll in your car?'”

He had forgotten his 1 1/2-year-old in his truck.

Harrison and his wife, Carol, adopted Chase from Russia in March of that year. July 8, Harrison told USA TODAY, was the second or third day he was scheduled to go to day care. It was the first day Harrison was meant to drop him off.

He ran to the car and saw an outline through tinted windows. He ripped Chase out of the car seat. He ran around the parking lot with his son’s body in his arms. “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” he screamed. “Take me, not him.”

Growing numbers of deaths

Harrison would join a sad fraternity of parents whose children have died as temperatures skyrocket inside locked cars during summer months.

More than 900 children have died in hot cars in the U.S. since 1990. Yearly, 38 kids die on average. That’s one every nine days, according to KidsAndCars.org, which tracks hot car deaths.

Within the past week, four children have died in hot cars: twins in the Bronx, whose father says he forgot them in the car; a Florida toddler left in a day care van; and a baby girl found in a hot vehicle at a car wash in Texas.

Their deaths bring this year’s total of children who have died in hot cars to 25.

As the deadly statistics rise, organizations, parents, government officials and experts have been searching for ways to stop the tragedies.

Heatstroke deaths: 15 kids died in hot cars in 2019 – and that was all before July

KidsAndCars.org is working to pass bipartisan legislation in Congress that would require all new passenger motor vehicles to include a child safety alarm.

Janette Fennell, founder of KidsAndCars.org, told USA TODAY that the organization has been trying to get a driver reminder system added to vehicles since 2003. The group’s efforts included language in other bills, which was stripped, and the Hot Cars Act of 2017, which was attached to another bill. Neither passed.

The safety bill would require that cars have both an audio and visual alert that may be combined with a vibration warning, activating when the engine is shut off.

Single mom locks child in car: With the AC on and a cellphone; police arrest her at job fair

Baby in rear facing car seat. T. Pleydell, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is a co-sponsor of the bill. He told USA TODAY that he decided to get involved in 2014 after a 15-month-old died in a hot car in his state.

“A dad simply forgot that his child was in the back seat of the car, much like what happened in New York,” Blumenthal said.

These deaths can be prevented with alert systems in the vehicle that remind parents to “look before you lock,” he said.

Some automobile manufacturers, including GM and Hyundai, Blumenthal said, are already making these devices standard equipment in their new models.

“No automobile maker can complain that it is either unaffordable or unachievable,” Blumenthal said. “It is a matter of pennies and it will save children.”

Fennell and Blumenthal agree that a hot car incident could happen to any parent.

“In the first couple years of a child’s life, they could sleep one hour, five hours, not at all all night,” Fennell said. “As a new parent, you’re so sleep deprived, you’re walking around like a zombie.”

If you’re thinking normally, she said, it’s easier to stay on track. But if you’re stressed or sleep deprived, then autopilot kicks in. When it does, you begin to forget irregular tasks, such as dropping your child off at day care for the first time.

Science behind the syndrome

David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, has worked closely with KidsAndCars.org. He focuses on cognitive neuroscience, including the neurobiology of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.”

He has a theory on how caring, competent parents can forget their children in the car.

Diamond’s research led him to conclude that the reason is a failure of the memory system. There’s a system called “prospective memory,” which involves the intent to remember to complete tasks out of your ordinary routine, he wrote. And then there’s a system called “habit memory,” which is akin to being on autopilot.

The prospective system is what fails when a parent forgets a child in a car. Then habit takes over, Diamond wrote in his research. When it does, regardless of original intent, people complete routine tasks.

It’s the same thing that happens when you are in a rush on the way to work and you put your coffee on top of the car roof, Fennell said. You get in, without thinking to take the coffee down, close the door, start to drive and the coffee flies.

It’s not always that benign, though. And there is precedent for Diamond’s conclusion.

The failure of prospective memory has resulted in other scenarios: plane crashes as a result of memory error, and incidents of police officers forgetting their guns were loaded, Diamond wrote.

A parent leaving a baby in a car is not carelessness; it’s a failure of the memory system, he concluded.

A father’s tragic tale

After Harrison found Chase, the world became a blur, he recalled: A visit to the police station, an extended stay in a hospital because of a mental breakdown, involuntary manslaughter charges, a trial.

“I wanted to kill myself,” Harrison said.

The court’s verdict was not guilty. But it didn’t matter for Harrison. He did this, he said. More than a decade later, he still doesn’t forgive himself.

Russia banned Americans from adopting Russian orphans after Chase died. They named the ban using Chase’s birth name: Dmitri Yakovlev.

In addition to losing his child, Harrison said, he cost 23 families already in the process of adopting their children.

“I hurt so many people. I hurt so many people,” he said, his voice muffled beneath sobs. “My mistake, I hurt so many people.”

For some time now, Harrison has been trying to prevent other tragedies.

He has been working with KidsAndCars.org on legislation to require automobile makers to put in alert systems. It’s hard for him, he said, to understand why this can’t be done.

“We have alarms for our keys, we have alarms for everything in cars, and you would think that a child would be a little bit more important,” he said.

Precautionary actions for parents

There are precautions parents can take.

KidsAndCars.org recommends making a habit of always opening the back door when parked, placing an essential item such as a purse or shoe in the back seat with your child and asking a care provider to contact you if your child is not on time.

The group also suggests keeping the car locked at all times so children can’t enter on their own, teaching children to honk the car horn if they are locked in and never leaving keys within a child’s reach.

Follow Morgan Hines on Twitter @MorganEmHines.

Published 12:55 PM EDT Aug 4, 2019

Is leaving a child to die in a hot car a memory lapse or a crime?

Thomas interviewed David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who has studied hot-car deaths. He explained that our memory allows us to do familiar things on autopilot, without conscious thought. Normally, this works well.

But when we’re weary or stressed, we’re more likely to succumb to this type of automatic processing, which Diamond has compared to the primitive brain structure of lizards, and we may lose the clarity supplied by the parts of the brain that are responsible for analysis, planning and critical thought.

When this happens, otherwise capable people can forget things with catastrophic results. Other examples, Thomas wrote, are the skilled surgeon who leaves a tool inside a patient or a veteran pilot who fails to properly prepare a plane for landing.

“We have to accept the fact that our brain multitasks. And as a part of that multitasking, the awareness of a child can be lost,” Diamond said in Consumer Reports. “We have to accept that the human memory is flawed. That includes when loving, attentive parents lose awareness of their children when they are in a car.”

That “lapse of awareness” was one reason that a mother in Hurricane, Utah, was not prosecuted after her 11-month old daughter died in a hot car in 2014. That baby died on a Friday, as did the New York twins. Thursday and Friday are the most common days for such deaths to happen, and July is the most common month, according to Jan Null, a meteorologist at San Jose State University, who researches children’s deaths from heatstroke and reports findings on the website Noheatstroke.org.

In the latest case, Rodriguez, a social worker and veteran, dropped his 4-year-old son off at day care and then went to to his job at a veterans’ hospital, leaving the twins sleeping in the back of the car. He told police that he believed he had dropped the babies off, too, and did not notice that they were in the car until he started to drive home after an eight-hour shift. “I blanked out,” he told authorities, according to court filings.

In the days after his children’s deaths, Rodriguez talked with Diamond to try to understand how he could have forgotten the twins, The New York Times reported. “He thought he was the only person who had ever done this,” Diamond said.

What happens now

Rodriguez could yet go to trial; he is due back in court on Aug. 27 and has waived his right to a speedy trial, the Times reported. After the Aug. 1 hearing, his attorney called on prosecutors to “do what we believe is the right thing, and that is, to dismiss these charges.” The district attorney for the Bronx is saying only that the matter remains under investigation.

The father’s attorney, Joey Jackson, said that his client is beset by “misery and sorry,” and Rodriguez’s wife, who lay her head on his shoulder outside the courtroom, is supporting her husband.

So are many people in the public.

A fundraiser established on GoFundMe for the family, is just a thousand dollars shy of its $100,000 goal. The fundraiser says that Rodriguez suffered “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” and asked for financial help for the family to pay for funeral expenses, legal expenses and lost wages.

But others have said that, as tragic as the case may be, the father should be held accountable. When a New York TV station asked its Twitter followers if Rodriguez should go to jail, one person replied, “Two infants died. Stupid question.”

In Otterman’s reporting for The New York Times, she found that similar cases in years past have had disparate outcomes. Some parents are never charged; others are charged with involuntary manslaughter, which is a felony; others with child endangerment, a misdemeanor.

To win a case, prosecutors have to prove that the caregiver meant to harm the child or at least knew that they were putting them in danger. The caregiver’s response to learning about the death may also figure into the decision. Otterman cited a Ohio case from 2017 in which a mother was not charged, in part, because the prosecutor saw video from a security camera that showed her reaction when she realized she had not taken the child to day care.

And she interviewed a district attorney in New York who declined to prosecute a police offer who left an infant in a hot car. “Just because you do something wrong doesn’t make it a crime,” Oneida County district attorney Scott McNamara said.

“After everything was done, and everyone was interviewed, we came to the conclusion that he just forgot, and I don’t think the law punishes forgetting.”

‘Absolutely heartbreaking’: 16-month-old boy dies after being left in hot car for 9 hours in Burnaby

A 16-month-old boy is dead after being left in a hot car in Burnaby on Thursday.

According to Acting Burnaby Fire Chief Dave Younger, firefighters were called to the 5600-block of Inman Avenue around 5:20 p.m., to reports of child locked in a vehicle.

View link “

Burnaby RCMP says the child was unconscious when first responders arrived. Sources tell Global News the boy was left in the vehicle for nine hours.

According to police, the boy’s father was located at the scene, and both parents are cooperating with the investigation.

WATCH: Burnaby RCMP hold update after toddler dies in hot car

0:53 Burnaby RCMP hold update after toddler dies in hot car Burnaby RCMP hold update after toddler dies in hot car

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, it’s a tragedy, it has ripple effects throughout the community,” said Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh, Officer in Charge of the Burnaby RCMP.

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Burleigh said police were in the very early stages of the investigation and canvassing the neighbourhood and could not provide more details about the case.

“As with any tragedy like this, I can’t imagine how the parents are coping. As a parent myself I can’t imagine how I would cope. So we have provided victim services, they are surrounded by friends and family,” she said.

The BC Coroners Service is also investigating. Police said no one has been arrested in the incident.

Younger said when crews arrived, paramedics were removing the child from the vehicle.

WATCH: New motion sensor technology could save lives

1:50 New motion sensor technology could save lives New motion sensor technology could save lives

The infant was transported to hospital in critical condition by paramedics, with firefighters assisting with CPR.

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said four units, including an advanced life support unit, arrived on scene within four minutes of receiving the call.

WATCH: A baby left in a car can quickly become a fatality

2:48 A baby left in a car can quickly become a fatality A baby left in a car can quickly become a fatality

“With this kind of weather we’re having, yesterday we had record highs, this definitely wouldn’t be a time to leave your child at all in the car, or an animal, or anything,” said Younger.

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“Very scary thing.”

READ MORE: 141-year-old temperature record among 15 to tumble in B.C. Thursday

Burleigh said police are pleading with the public not to leave their children alone in their vehicles in the warm weather.

“When you’re transporting your children in a vehicle, please check the vehicle and ensure that you have delivered your child and that they’re no longer in the vehicle when you’re parked and you’ve gone off to do your business for the day.”

WATCH: RCMP warn parents and caregivers of the danger of leaving children in hot cars

0:39 ‘It’s about diligence, vigilance, we all get tired, we’re all exhausted at certain points’: RCMP on the death of toddler in hot car ‘It’s about diligence, vigilance, we all get tired, we’re all exhausted at certain points’: RCMP on the death of toddler in hot car

Experts say it can take just 20 minutes for the interior of a vehicle to reach extreme temperatures on a warm day.

According to safety website kidsandcars.org, 52 children died of heatstroke in cars across the U.S. in 2018, and nine have lost their lives already in 2019.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Is it illegal to leave a child in the car?

Not every state has a law on the books about whether it’s illegal to leave children in the car. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t faced criminal charges for leaving a child in the car. Cases in Arkansas and Georgia, states that don’t have hot car laws, have had parents charged and convicted with negligent homicide due to accidental hot car deaths.

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

What do vague laws mean for parents or guardians?

Even without specific kids-in-cars laws on the books, a state can prosecute a parent or guardian for endangering the health of child left in an unattended vehicle. In this case, the interpretation of endangerment or harm is left up to the courts.

Even if your state doesn’t have a specific law outlining how long a kid can be left alone in a locked car, a court can apply general abuse and neglect laws regardless of any other circumstances.

How many children die in hot cars every year?

According to noheatstroke.org, an average of 40 children die each year in hot cars. And the state with the most deaths? Texas is the winner, which isn’t surprising considering its record high summer temperatures over 113 degrees.

Which month has the most deaths?

Most of those deaths occur in July, which has the highest temperatures of any month. August is a close second, especially in states where August temps rival or beat July highs. That’s why it’s most important to make sure kids aren’t left alone in cars during the summer months.

How hot can a car get in the summer?

On a summer day, a car can heat up 20 degrees in 10 minutes. That means your car can go from 70 to 90 degrees in the time it takes to run into the pharmacy, and a car on a 95 degree day can heat up to 115.

If I break into a car to save a child, what am I liable for?

Because there’s no nationwide Good Samaritan law offering legal protection, you could be liable for property and other damages, depending on where you live.

Good Samaritan laws are designed to encourage people to help their fellow citizens without worry. They’d likely protect you from damages and liability that result from rescuing a kid.

In these 16 states, Good Samaritan laws protect you and other bystanders from damages that result from coming to the aid of somebody in distress.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Minimizing your liability if you see a child in an unattended car

You might be tempted to break a window or pry open a door to rescue a child from a locked car.

Civil liability laws in your state might protect you from the resulting vehicle damages, but you could still be exposed to a lawsuit.

If you see an unattended child in a car, take these steps before taking action:

  1. Confirm that the child is at risk. If the child doesn’t appear in immediate danger, you might want to stay with the vehicle until a parent or guardian returns.
  2. Check that all doors are locked. Look for a less intrusive method of entry, if possible.
  3. Contact emergency services. Laws strongly protect police and paramedics when it comes to rescuing a child. If you don’t think they can respond quickly, they may be able to guide you through entering the vehicle with minimum damage.

I’m in trouble for leaving my child in the car. Do I need a lawyer?

Yes. A lawyer is an expert in state laws and will be your best resource if you’re charged with a crime.

A consult can also help you determine whether the expense is worth it against the severity of your citation or fine.

Will my car insurance cover damages to my car if someone breaks into it?

Yes, if your policy includes comprehensive coverage that protects your car from damages beyond your control.

Most basic policies don’t offer reimbursement for theft, vandalism and similar damages. You’d need to add this coverage to your policy.

Call your car insurance provider to determine whether your policy already includes comprehensive coverage. If it doesn’t, ask how much you might pay to add this coverage to your policy, or compare quotes from other insurers to find the best car insurance coverage.

Tips for keeping kids safe in the car

  • Know the law. Many states don’t allow children to be in cars unsupervised at all, even for a few minutes during a quick trip to the grocery store.
  • Watch the weather. Heat stroke can happen at temperatures as low as 58 degrees. A car can heat up 20 degrees in 10 minutes.
  • Check the backseat. Make sure everyone’s out of the car after a drive in the car.
  • Have your babysitter check in. After someone else has driven your kid, ask them to text you to let you know everyone’s home safe.
  • Know the signs of heatstroke. Symptoms include nausea, confusion, seizures, headaches, muscle cramps, red skin, rapid breathing or heartbeat and fainting.
  • Be prepared to treat heatstroke. If a child is showing signs of heatstroke, move them to a cooler location and spritz them with cool water.

How can technology keep kids safe?

New car technology is constantly improving. Nissan recently released a new feature in 2019 car models called Rear Door Alert. When you turn on this feature, the car detects when you’ve opened a rear door to get in the car. Drivers will see a dashboard alert you if the rear door isn’t reopened upon arrival. This technology is planned to be standard in all new Nissans by 2020, which may cause other automakers to follow suit.

Your child seat could also help you make sure you don’t forget precious cargo in the back of your car. Evenflow and Cybex car seats offer SensorSafe chest clips that attach to the car’s seatbelts. If the clip’s still attached when the car turns off, an alert will sound. This sensor can also pair with an app, so parents can check on their car’s backseat from anywhere.

Are laws the same for pets as they are for children?

Yes, but only in a few states. For example, Arizona recently passed a bill allowing for the Good Samaritan laws of that state to extend to rescuing pets. But only a few states have made it illegal to leave a pet in a hot car.

On the whole, it’s less likely that you’re protected by a Good Samaritan law for rescuing a pet in a hot car than for rescuing a child at risk.

Bottom line

You may live in a state that isn’t so firm about leaving children in cars while you shop or run errands. But no matter what state you’re in, child abuse or neglect laws could still come into play, and a little convenience while picking up milk or dry cleaning may not be worth risking a child’s health or potential legal action.

Understanding your state’s car and driving laws is also a great first step to comparing car insurance.

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Most of us have been here.

You are out running errands and have been getting your children in and out of the car all day. Now, all you need to do is make a quick stop at the post office.

You think to yourself, “This will not take long.”

You pull in the parking lot and turn your head to look at the children. They are asleep.

You know you should probably bring them in with you, but you still question yourself.

“What am I supposed to do, wake them up for something that won’t even take five minutes and I can see them through the window the whole time? They’re not little anymore. And the weather is nice – not too hot or cold.”

“Can’t I leave them there for just a minute or two?”

“Should I?”

Many of us have asked ourselves this question. In situations that appear safe there is no easy answer and this article cannot tell you what you should do in every situation.

What we can do is inform you what the laws in your state say you may not do and provide some guidance which we hope is helpful.

50-State Overview

As you review this interactive map, please note that it does not describe what you should do or even what you may do. It only describes what the laws of your state say you may not do.

As you can see, the laws on this subject vary widely, but here are a couple of general takeaways:

  • A parent who leaves a child who is twelve (12) or older alone in a vehicle is generally not considered to be leaving them unattended.
  • A parent who leaves a child with someone who is fourteen (14) or older is generally not considered to be leaving them unattended.

One exception to both of these is the State of Washington, which requires that even someone fifteen years old should not be left unattended in a vehicle in a public place if the motor is running.

Also, keep in mind that cities and other municipalities may have even more restrictive laws.

What If My State Does Not Have a Law on This Issue?

Though many states do have specific laws that regulate the who, when, and how you can leave your children in the car, most do not, as illustrated by the numerous gray-colored states on the map.

In the states without such laws, does this mean that a parent will never be arrested by law enforcement or investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) for leaving a child in a car? No, it is not that simple. Just because there is not a specific state law does not mean you can assume that leaving your child alone in the car is legal.

First, even in states that do not have a statewide law on the subject, many cities or other municipalities do.

Second, if there is no specific state or local law about leaving a child in a vehicle, it is likely that a general child neglect, failure to supervise, or child endangerment law could apply.

Finally, even if leaving your child alone in a vehicle is not a crime, it may still be considered neglect under child welfare laws which often have very vague and subjective definitions.

Considering the Risks

If the situation were safe and leaving your child alone in a vehicle were not a crime or considered neglect under any definition in your area, still bear in mind that anyone who sees your child alone in the car could still report it and spark a CPS investigation.

While you may assert that you have the right to leave your children in the car when the situation is safe, others may still feel legally obligated to report you. Even people who are not mandatory reporters may freely report you to CPS. This happens regularly. We have represented several member families in investigations sparked by reports like these. While all of these investigations were closed successfully, they were still very trying for the families who went through them.

While a hard-and-fast rule to follow would be ideal, varied and vague laws and differences in their enforcement make that elusive. Instead, parents must make a judgment call in each situation based on different facts, circumstances, and the maturity of their children. As you make those decisions for your own family, please carefully weigh the benefits of saving time and avoiding inconvenience with all the potential risks.

Why Leaving Your Child in the Car is So Dangerous

Picture this scenario: You can barely keep your eyes open after a long night caring for your sleepless infant. Your cranky, tired baby has been fussing all afternoon long. You need to go to the supermarket to grab some milk and veggies so you can prepare dinner before your partner returns home from work, so you buckle up your little one in the car seat and make the short drive to the store. When you arrive, you realize the car has finally lulled your baby into a deep, peaceful sleep for the first time all day. You know it will only take a minute to run in and grab the two things you need to make dinner — and you’re afraid if you move baby’s car seat you’ll wake him. What’s your first thought?

If you’re tempted to run inside and leave your baby in the car for just a minute, you wouldn’t be alone. On average, 14 percent of parents admit they’ve left a child alone inside a parked vehicle, according to a 2014 national online survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington, D.C. and reported by to the injury prevention organization Safe Kids Worldwide. But what these parents don’t realize is that even a moment alone in a car, even on a breezy fall day, can be extremely dangerous — even fatal — for their kids.

A hot car is dangerous for young children

Every year dozens of kids, most under the age of 3, die after being left — usually sleeping — inside the car seat of a vehicle. In fact, according to Safe Kids, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths among children.

While heatstroke deaths in cars typically happen in summer months and hot climates, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that heatstroke can occur when outside temperatures are as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Even on a moderately sunny day, a car becomes like an oven, rising 20 degrees or more in 10 minutes — car interiors can reach 117 degrees when it’s only 72 degrees outside. And cracking a car window open doesn’t keep the inside temperature of the car from rising, say safety experts.

More About Summer Health and Safety

Health Spotting and Preventing Dehydration in Babies Health Spotting and Preventing Dehydration in Toddlers Care How to Dress a Newborn Baby for the Weather Health Spotting and Preventing Dehydration in Babies Health Spotting and Preventing Dehydration in Toddlers Care How to Dress a Newborn Baby for the Weather

What’s more, heat is especially dangerous for young children, whose body temperature rises up to five times faster than yours. Over 30 percent of deaths from overheating in a car since 1998 have involved children younger than 1 year old.

In some cases of kids who’ve died of heatstroke inside a car, the parent thinks he or she will be gone just a minute to run an errand — always a bad idea — but returns long after expected, according to research by the NHTSA. In other cases, the parent in charge of the child that day isn’t the one who usually does the day care/sitter/school drop-off, and so easily forgets a sleeping child in the back that he or she wasn’t used to transporting at that time of day.

How you can protect your child

Although several retail alert devices on the market are aimed at reminding parents there’s a child in the back, a 2012 study by NHTSA found no product reliable enough to recommend. Most car companies are currently working on built-in devices that would sound an alert if a car sensor indicated a child had been left behind after the car was closed or locked, but those devices aren’t yet available.

For now, safety organizations hope the acronym ACT will help parents prevent heatstroke deaths in cars:

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And always lock your car when you’re not in it so kids can’t get in on their own, and keep keys and remote entry fobs out of your kids’ sight and reach.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child — such as a briefcase, purse or cell phone — that you’ll need when you arrive at your final destination. These reminders are especially important if you’re not following your normal routine when transporting your child.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911 and follow the dispatcher’s instructions.

Here are a few additional tips to avoid leaving a child behind in a car:

  • If you’re in charge of dropping off your child at daycare, school or the sitter’s, create a calendar reminder or set an alarm on your smartphone.
  • Ask your daycare/school/sitter to call you and/or your partner if your child is not dropped off.
  • Leave a stuffed animal in the car seat when a child is not in the car, and put the toy in the front seat next to you when the child is in back to remind you he’s there.
  • Always open the back door of your car every time you reach your destination to get in the habit of checking that you haven’t left your child behind.

3 Things to Read Next:

  • Protecting Young Kids from Extreme Heat
  • 4 Summer Safety Precautions for Families
  • Dehydration in Babies

This Momversation is personal. I picked the topic, I picked the angle of it and I drove a few miles with my son in tow to make it happen. Yes, I left my house to vlog. Doesn’t happen much.

This all started when I ran across an essay on Babble (See, I mentioned you; can you move me up from mom blogger #31? Thanks.) written by Joel Stein. It had the provocative title, “Making Out with My Son“. But I wasn’t grossed out. I knew exactly where he was going with this. Sadly, many people were dialing 911 as they read it.

Now, not only did I relate to the essay I also felt like, for years, I got Joel. He used to write op ed pieces in the LA Times during the very moment when they had interesting writers. Now, with the exception of Ronald Brownstein, it’s pretty neutered. He writes for Time as well, but unless I’m in an airport I don’t read that. I know he is a very funny writer. In fact, his piece about a man crush on Obama in ’08 was the only writing I had saved in my “inspiration” file. (The file wasn’t my idea. Back when I had money, I hired an organizer and that was one of her ideas to haul all of the crap off my desk). Joel also has his own theme song.

Then I didn’t just feel I knew Joel I did know him. I met he and his wife Cassandra Barry, who also writes for Babble, at a fundraising dinner for my daughter’s school that my husband did. The Barry Stein’s are hoping to get into our little gem of a charter school and eat well while they do it. We also ran into them at the trash fiesta we went to. Clearly, they were our food group. I didn’t tell them about the file least I appear stalkery.

So, a tad bored as I am with the same Momversation format and working alone, I wrote Joel an email asking if I could come with my tripod and include him on this. So, it’s a parentversation. Let me know what you think.

(Production note: Rex was upstairs watching cartoons and eating crackers while this was made.)

So do you make out with your kid?