Leaving Kids Alone in the Car for a Few Minutes: Is This Bad?

kids unattended car European

Are we really living in a world where parents are no longer allowed to leave their kids unattended in the car -- even at the ATM, even for a few minutes, even in our own driveways?

Does the world really not trust us to use common sense? Are horrible news stories getting in the way of our ability to parent with good judgment?


I really have no problem leaving my kids in the car for a few minutes if, say, I forget something in the house in the morning or I'm running into the preschool to pick up my youngest. Is this a bad thing?

Okay, I admit it. Leaving my first baby unattended in his bassinet for even a few minutes used to freak me out to no end when I was a new mom. I mean, what new mom didn't constantly check to see if their baby was breathing when they napped in another room?

And I remember going to pick up my dry cleaning at the drive-up dry cleaner where the cash register is located about six feet from the car door and still feeling I should take my sleeping kid out with me. And then there are all those trips to the ATM. Should I? Shouldn't I?

However, with time and with the addition of my second child, this anxiety waned for the most part. Obviously, I always practice common sense: never for more than a few minutes, never leaving the keys in the car, never on a hot day, and for my 3-year old, never unbuckled from his carseat.

Based on this article over on SFGate, I seem to be working within the law too (well, thank goodness!). The writer checked with the San Francisco Police Department, which directed her to California Vehicle Code 15620 (a), which states:

"A parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child who is 6 years of age or younger may not leave that child inside a motor vehicle without being subject to the supervision of a person who is 12 years of age or older, under either of the following circumstances:

(1) Where there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child's health or safety.

(2) When the vehicle's engine is running or the vehicle's keys are in the ignition, or both."

Of course, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has a different opinion on the subject:

"AAA believes children should never be left alone in a vehicle, even if it's only for a few minutes," said Jenny Mack, senior manager of public relations for AAA Northern California.

"There are just too many potentially deadly hazards to risk it," Mack adds. "In just 10 minutes, the temperature inside a car can spike 19 degrees, and it can go up 29 degrees in 20 minutes. So on a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a car can climb to 97 degrees in just 10 minutes. And rising temperatures aren't the only hazard: Children can accidentally disengage the emergency brake, or get caught in automatic windows, or keys can become locked in the car trapping children inside, or any number of other dangerous scenarios."

It would be just my luck that one of my boys would get stuck in the automatic windows, but luckily I have manual windows on my car. So with the safety precautions I always take, I think I'm good. I plan to carry on, using my smarts and abilities to make these sort of judgements with my kids.

What about you? Do you ever leave your child unattended in a car, even for a few minutes? Or is there no excuse good enough to leave kids alone in a car?


Image via BenedictFrancis

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