Dangers Of Leaving A Child Unattended In A Car

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Often times, running quick errands may seem easier if the accompanying children are left waiting in the car. After all, you only plan to be away for just a minute or two. However, there can be unforeseen consequences of leaving a child unattended in a car, and such action is illegal in many states within the United States. Here are some possible hazards you may put a child through when you leave him or her unattended in a car:

Heat Stroke

Sometimes, parents may leave their kids unattended in the car as they run to the store quickly to get something on a relatively cool day. However, we tend to forget that children and infants have a lower temperature tolerance than adults, and even warm days can quickly accelerate to unbearable temperatures. Statistics show that cool temperatures in the 60s can rise up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit inside an enclosed car; the difference between the temperatures is quite drastic for a child. If a child has heat stroke and is not given medical attention immediately it can become life threatening.


All too often, children left unattended in a car are left with the windows shut tightly, and the doors locked for safety; the vehicle, then, becomes a death trap for suffocation. Suffocation happens when the oxygen within the car is depleted, and can happen under any temperature level or any type of weather. It doesn’t mean, however, that it will be all right to leave children unattended in vehicles if the window is open for air; children should not be left unattended, period.


Although leaving the children in an enclosed space seems to be relatively safe, the children can easily injure themselves via the power windows of the car. Strangulation or getting limbs and fingers caught in the power window are quite common among injuries related to unattended children in vehicles.

Seat Belt Entanglement

Since seat belts have auto locking and/or retracting abilities when it is pulled to a certain extent, it is easy for children to become entangled by the seat belts. Leaving children by themselves in a car drastically increases the danger of seatbelt entanglement, which can also lead to strangulation. Be sure to teach children that seat belts are not toys.

Trunk Entrapment

As many backseat of cars are interconnected with the trunk, children can easily climb to the back and become stuck there. However, the car trunk is a dangerous place; for one thing, a child can suffocate in the car trunk. The car trunk also traps heat and further increases the risk for heat stroke. While the car is moving, toxic fumes can also leak into the trunk and poison the child if he or she is stuck in there unknowingly. If you have a missing child that is last seen in or around a vehicle, be sure to check the trunk of the car first before anything else.

Laws Against Leaving Unattended Children

It is illegal in many states within the United States to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Be sure to read up and learn about your own state’s laws to stay informed. It should also be known that even if the state does not have laws against leaving children unattended in cars, it is still up to the discretion of local prosecutors to press criminal charges against the adult or caretaker responsible.

As of 2011, there are 18 states that have instituted laws against leaving children in vehicles without supervision. Those states include California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. Each state has its own definition of age range for the children in question, and penalties can range from noncriminal traffic infractions to second degree manslaughter charges.

Specifically, California uses the Unattended Child in Motor Vehicle Act (also famously known as Kaitlyn’s law) for these instances. This law is named after the tragedy involving Kaitlyn Russell, a 6 month old child, who died after being left unattended in a car for more than 2 hours. Kaitlyn’s Law states that children under the age of 7 cannot be left unattended in a vehicle, and is signed into action in 2011. If the child is harmed in any way, the parents will face criminal charges and a fine of $100. Be sure to visit the DMV website to read more on Kaitlyn’s Law.

Be sure to call 911 immediately if a child is in danger due to being left unattended in a vehicle. Tragedies related to unattended children in vehicles are highly preventable, so be sure to avoid it at all costs.


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