Thus far, we have only considered the risks incurred by leaving children in cars. We must give consideration to the risks incurred by taking children into the gas station, as well. The sad fact is that pedestrians do, at times, get seriously injured and killed in and around parking lots. I have no relevant statistics (and doubt that they even exist for this special case circumstance), but my gut reaction is that more children may be injured or killed as pedestrians in parking lots as opposed to being injured or killed by remaining in the car for a couple of minutes (by car-jacking or vehicular collisions).
I witness many reckless drivers in parking lots and some get precariously close to striking pedestrians, so I must conclude that this is a serious risk. (If you’re going to be struck by a vehicle, better to be in a vehicle as well). The possibility also exists that your child may break free from your grasp (particularly if you are negotiating more than one child) and he or she may run into highway traffic (I recall reading of cases like this resulting in death). Children may also be seriously injured or killed from slip-and-fall head injuries in oil-slick parking lots. Admittedly, the risks of taking children into gas stations is most likely quite miniscule. However, I do allow for the possibility that serious risk incurred by keeping children in a car for 3 or 4 minutes may be even more miniscule. All things considered, if statistics were to bear out that my children are less at risk for serious injury or death by remaining in an unattended car for a couple of minutes, then I should consider that option. I don’t know the statistics in this situation, hence my OP question.
The risk of heat stroke does not exist in the gas station scenario of 3 or 4-minute absences. As far as mayhem that children may cause in an unattended vehicle, I suppose you should take it on a child-by-child case basis. In the case of my 3-year old, she can’t even unbuckle from the seat by herself and my 5-year old is quite responsible. Even if the 3-year old did manage to unbuckle herself, she would be unlikely to move the vehicle (gear-shift is difficult for a 3-year-old to move, the key is not left in the car…etc.). Fire hazard should not exist since there are no lighters in our vehicle. She would be unlikely to leave the vehicle due to the sliding doors being beyond her capacity to open.
Even if statistics bore out that it was more dangerous to take children into gas stations, one should not be tempted to extrapolate this to other circumstances. For instance, one could try to justify leaving a child in the car while they hop into Wal-Mart for just a minute or two. In this case, even with good intentions, the possibility exists that one could forget about the kids in the car and remain far too long in the store. This possibility does not exist in a gas station (you’re not likely to forget the kids and stay in the gas station too long).
Sometimes, we are fooled into exposing ourselves to more risk in an effort to reduce risk – good intentions gone awry. Case in point: a very good argument can be made that putting toilet seat protectors on public toilet seats exposes you to more risk than not putting them on. Why? When putting toilet seat protectors on you are much more likely to touch the toilet seat with your hands. While getting a few rogue bacteria on your backside is relatively free of serious risk, the same can not be said of getting those bacteria on your hands (hands that often make their way to your mouth). So, in this case, attempting to reduce risk, results in incurring more risk. I’m simply positing that the same may be true of bringing children into gas stations as opposed to leaving them unattended for a couple of minutes.
For the record, I do not leave my girls in the vehicle alone at any time. I’m simply saying that I would consider doing so in the special circumstance of the gas station, if I was convinced that doing so constituted less of a serious risk than not doing so.