Kids left in cars - new laws needed?

So I was reading this article from the Washington Post:

I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

As much as that might blow my mind (I personally can’t imagine not realizng that Baby Kate is in the car. It’s like I have a radar that constantly tells me where she is when she’s under my care.) I’m not convinced that new laws are the way to deal with this sort of thing.
If the parent is thoughtless then no amount of law is going to change that. And if the parent is simply neglectful (as mentioned in several cases in the article) aren’t existing child endangerment laws sufficient to punish the guilty?

I see this sort of ‘there ought to be a law’ thing as a knee-jerk response to a suddenly perceived ‘crisis’. Making new law based upon a ‘story of the month’ media focus strikes me as poor legistative work.


I think there should be some sort of law about this. I like the idea of giving a $100 ticket to parents who leave their kids alone in a car. I understand that kids can be a pain in the ass to take in to certain places but that’s no excuse to leave them in a car. Most of those cases in the article were just negligent stupid parents. I mean, c’mon. A guy leaves his kid in a car so he can watch tv for 3 hours, that’s just ignorant. That man deserves to be in jail for that. A parent leaves their kids in the car to run into the gas station and pay for their gas… $100 ticket seems fair.

I can’t imagine forgetting that your kids are in the car with you. I never forget my kids are with me, they’re too damn noisy! Seriously though, I never leave my kids alone in the car regardless of where I’m going, what I’m doing, or how much of a pain it is to take them with me. Even if I’m just running in to pay for gas and will be out in 30 seconds, I’ll take both of them in with me. I don’t want to be the reason something bad happens to my kids.

Jon, I don’t think there’ll be much of a debate here, but we’ll see.

You cannot legislate morality, intelligence, and in this case, good parenting.

I cannot fathom how something like this happens. Unfortunately, there are people out there who, for whatever reason, do not (or will not)care for thier children.

These folks need to be educated, not legislated.


I disagree that there needs to be specific new legislation.

There’s already laws about child abuse, neglect etc and enhancements when such abuse/neglect cause death or severe injury.

Those laws can be utilized to deal with idiots who forget their child in the car etc.

However, a specific law about ‘leaving minor unattended in a motor vehicle’ would either have to be so broad that it would include folks it shouldn’t (as in, I just snapped my kid into the car seat, and toddler started running for the street - what to do??? let toddler run into the street? defy the law by leaving child in car unattended?) Or unworkable because of all the situational things one would have to include (for longer than x number of minutes in weather over 95 degrees f, for longer than y number of minutes in weather under 95 but over 70 etc etc etc).

As noted by others, a lot depends on the details, the circumstances.

I am actually familiar with one tragic case, which happened to acquaintances of mine. The mother had a routine of dropping her baby off at child care. On one particular morning, she was tired from being up late the night before, and thought she had dropped the baby off when she had not. The baby had meanwhile fallen asleep in the back seat. She decided to take the morning off, went home and to bed, leaving the child in the back seat. By the time she woke up, the baby was dead.

In what I think was a tremendous overreaction, the police immediately threw her in jail, and child welfare seized the other children. Eventually no charges were brought, and their children were returned. (The issue was a bit clouded by members of various ethnic minorities and others, who attempted to pressure for harsh treatment on racial grounds).

Most people that I know agreed that a story like this could happen to anyone. Which makes it kind of scary, when considering the possibility of it happening to you. But also points to the difficulty of establishing a clear-cut catch-all category for such incidents.

It’s times like this, when people are so stupid, that I must paraphrase a line from the worst actor in hollywood:

You need a licence to drive a car, and licence to own a dog, hell you even need a licence to own a cat, but they’ll let any buttreaming dickwad be a parent

Last week, during the 95+ F heat we had here in DC, I was out to lunch at 1pm and I saw a dog tied to a newspaper box. I wanted to cry. But, I saw that the leash was a few feet long, the dog had a water dish that was still full, and the dog was placed in the shade.

The dog, a husky breed, was panting, but no more than it would while walking on a more mild day.

I’m of the opinion that people who leave dogs in cars should get life imprisonment.

As for why I’m posting, I guess that people should just think before they leave someone in a dangerous situation. The owner of the dog I saw last week was at least considerate enough to make sure the leash was long enough to allow movement, plus the dog had water and shade.

Right, what wring said.

More laws banning something that is already against the law is, at best, redundant. At worst it would let someone be tried for a crime more than once, each time under a different violation.

The problem that the proposed law would fix, as the article explained it, was in the case of kids left in the car, but found before overheating has become a problem. When the parent shows up two minutes later, the police officer, in many jurisdictions, has a choice between charging the parent with something heavy-duty such as felony child abuse, or doing nothing.

If the child is unharmed, the police are reluctant to book the parent on a serious charge. The proposed law would allow a fine on a misdemeanor charge.

I see this as less of a case of ‘there oughta be a law’ so much as ‘we’ve got a law, but it’s a blunt instrument that needs a bit of fine-tuning if we’re gonna actually use it.’

No, you can’t legislate morality. But certain actions that run the risk of harming others - even if the ‘others’ are your own children - should have legal consequences. If the only law you’ve got has penalties that are too draconian for the circumstances, then we’ve got a situation where it’s wrong to apply the law, and wrong not to do so. Where’s the sense in that?

Not in a hundred fucking million years.

Damn right Scylla.

No way.

My mother-in-law heard something on the radio or TV about these cases, where the people were “really good parents who just got confused” or some similar nonsense. Like the guy whose wife always dropped the kids off while he went to the office. He was such a creature of habit, that on the day he was supposed to drop the kids off, he just drove straight to work and left the kids in the car, forgotten. And they died.

The MIL tried to tell us that she could understand how that could happen, and that these parents were being punished enough without jail or prison.

Not in my book. And I’m not sure how much driving she’ll be doing with my son in her car anytime soon.

As a parent, I have the responsibility of caring for this beautiful little person who cannot care for himself and is totally dependent on me to provide for him and protect him. It is a full-time job, and should be taken seriously. I have never “forgotten” that my child was in the car, and don’t see how anyone could.

I’m going to risk the flames and say that, as tragic as the “baby dies in overheated car” incidents are, a part of me is glad at those incidents, as they allow evolution to do its job and weed the stupid people out of the gene pool…

I think it’s unreasonable to make it illegal to leave children in the car. If the doors are locked, if the children are old enough to know not to unlock the doors for strangers or young enough to be unable to do so, and if the weather is reasonable, I don’t see anything wrong with it. I was left “parked” while my mother ran short errands all the time, and somehow I survived to adulthood.

I also fail to see how such a law would prevent people from forgetting their children.

Obviously most people have never forgotten that their child was in the car - otherwise these incidents would be happening all the time. But the truth is that it could happen to anyone - OK, maybe most people - including, quite possibly, you and Scylla.

rjung, I think your post is pretty stupid in its own right. Is a part of you glad at the tragic death of any low IQ person? FYI, “stupid” is only a relative term, and even if - to your great delight, no doubt - they all perished, this would merely serve to define the new bottom of the intelligence curve as stupid. As evolution marches on…

I have to admit, Izzy, I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Is the standard for leniency ‘it could happen to me’? So if it only happens to people like them, we should throw the book at 'em? I always wonder, in situations like this, whose ‘me’ should we use?

I think it can lead to a judicial system where penalties are based on ‘is this a situation that upper-middle-class whites could find themselves in?’ Or if the nanny forgets the kid in the car, we throw the book at her, or if it’s some low-life ghetto girl raising her kid by herself, but we get the wake-up call - hey, this could happen to me! - when it happens to Mrs. Minivan. But at that point, we still don’t go back and pardon Miss Ghettogirl who’s got eight more years to go on her 10-year sentence.

I expect your acquaintance had to empty out the bank accounts and put a second mortgage on the house to pay the lawyers’ bills, Izzy, but the fact is they had the resources to go that route. Not everyone who’s committed similar offenses has had those resources or that choice.

Whatever penalties there are for forgetting one’s kid in the car on a hot day, they ought to be the same for everyone, and we shouldn’t change 'em the first time it happens to ‘someone like me’. I can understand that raising children is more of a challenge in 2001 than it was in 1961 for a whole host of reasons, and that perhaps we as a society ought to be figuring out how to share some of the burden with the individual parents.

But you should know if your kid’s in the car with you or not, and if your confusion on this score leads to the child’s death, then the legal consequences should be nontrivial, IMO, involving some years in a minimum-security prison to make one’s life less harried.

What still baffles me in this day and age, with the DECADES of warnings about leaving your dog/kids in a warm car, how it can climb to 120 degrees in 20 minutes, how we are all HIT over the head with this warning every day of the summertime… that people are STILL doing this! Whether it’s a pet or a kid, I can’t imagine there are people still that unenlightened in the world that they would think this warning couldn’t possibly apply to them, and their pet/kid will be just fine in a locked, sealed car in August!


No. Really. It couldn’t. Not on my worst day. Trust me on this. Not with most dare I say, all parents.

When your child is in your care there is a certain indescribably vigilance that comes over you. It is a constant weight. It remains there whether your child is asleep in the backseat, watching Elmo on TV, or running through the backyard. It is a weight that is not relieved unless and until that direct responsibility is handed to another with confidence.

It’s a weight that’s with you when you are walking down the stairs with your child in your arms. If you fall there is no question that you will fall headfirst and backwards if necessary to protect that child.

It is a paranoid vigilance that is always thinking ahead, watching actions, calculating contingencies, working all the time to minimize danger and keept the most important thing in the world safe, safe, safe.

You have it if you are the kind of parent that deserves a child, and it cannot turn off, and it cannot fail.

You do not forget your child any more than you forget to breathe, again, if you are a parent worthy of the name.

You cannot forget that which is always in the forefront of your mind.

Bad parents neglect their kids. No good parent could forget their child and leave it in a hot car. I don’t care how late she was staying out. As if that’s an excuse or even a reason.

She should be in jail. Her kids should be taken away from her.

She’s a failure as a human being.

I agree with RTFirefly completely. The laws are there but something else needs to be done.

How a parent can “forget” that they have one of their children with them is beyond me. I’ve never forgotten my kids no matter how tired I am or how much I have on my mind. I’ve never left my kids alone in the car regardless of how long I was going to be gone. It’s a parent’s responsibility to protect their kids and their well being and if they don’t they should suffer the consequences.

And it doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are, you shouldn’t leave your child alone in a car, period. There’s lots of things that can happen if you leave your kids alone in a car. Besides death from the heat the first two things to come to my mind are 1) They could be playing around and knock the car out of gear and start rolling away. 2) Someone could come along and kidnap them or steal your car with the kids still in it. Sure, it’s easier to leave your kids in the car to run into the grocery store for milk but do you really want to risk it knowing what could happen. If you knew you would have to pay $100 fine for doing it would it make you think twice?


Is there anything in my post which suggested to you that I meant “it could happen to anyone” as “someone from any ethnic or socio-economic background”? I don’t think this is a reasonable interpretation of my words.

I meant that even a normal person who loves and cares for their children and would never knowingly put them in harm’s way can sometimes commit a tragic accident. In such circumstances, I think they should be treated exactly the same as someone else who causes a death through a tragic accident, regardless of whether they live in a ghetto or drive a minivan. This is to be distinguished from someone who is deliberately neglectful and decides to leave the kids in the car while they go elsewhere or the like. My point was and is that genuine accidents can happen to anyone. And it is not right to lump such accidents with other, more criminal actions.

I think your recommendation of several years in jail is exceedingly harsh. And I’d like to know if you apply this to all cases of accidental death (auto accidents, pharmacist fills the wrong prescription etc.)

rjung, you understand that it is innocent children, and not neglectful parents that died, correct? Just wanted to be clear.

Some documented cases:
Note the last two cases. At least on record (realizing someone could have lied) the parents claim to have forgotten the children.

That being said, I’ll state my opinion. It doesn’t matter whether you were punishing, goofing off, or merely forgetting your child. The criminal charges may differ, but none of these are activities of a good parent. Forgetting your child in the car doesn’t wash with me any better than forgetting to feed him or her, even if it is the truth.