When You Can Leave Your Kids in the Car Unsupervised
You pick the kids up from school and remember there is nothing in the refrigerator for dinner. You have to stop at the store on the way. Unfortunately, you know if you take the kids into the store with you, the pit stop will become a 20 minute negotiation on whether they can have pizza and ice cream instead of chicken. If you leave them in the car instead, you can be in and out in five minutes flat. What do you do? Leaving the kids in the car may be an option, but only if they are old and mature enough to be left alone and the conditions are not too hot or cold. But when is that?
When is it OK to Let Your Children Wait in the Car?
Whether or not it is appropriate let your children wait in the car unsupervised while you run an errand depends on a number of factors, including:
- Your children’s age;
- Your children’s maturity;
- The safety of the area;
- The current weather conditions; and
- How long you may be gone.
Infants and toddlers should never be left in a vehicle unintended. They are clearly too young to be unsupervised since they cannot appreciate the rules of staying in the locked vehicle or properly react to changing circumstances. How do you know when young is too young to be left in the vehicle? If any of your children have to use a safety seat, they should stay with you.
But what about a pre-teen or teenager? Your children may be able to stay safely in the vehicle if they are capable of following your rules and recognize when there is a problem and then get help. For example, a 16-year-old is probably capable of staying in the car alone for 10 minutes. However, whether or not a 12-year-old is ready depends on their maturity.
When Could it be a Crime?
Nineteen states have laws that determine when a child is too young to be left in a vehicle unattended by an adult. However, Virginia does not. You must use your discretion or your local law enforcement’s recommendations on when it is OK to begin leaving your kids in the vehicle while you make a quick stop. However, that does not mean this action could never amount to crime. If your child is very young or you left in a dangerous environment, you could be charged with neglect, abuse, or endangerment.
Be Mindful of the Heat
A major issue with leaving your children in the car is when the weather is hot in the summer. It is important to keep in mind that the inside of the vehicle can become much hotter than the outside temperature very quickly. For instance, an outside temperature of 70 degrees can lead to a 99-degree interior within 20 minutes. If it is 85 degrees outside, it can be 99 degrees within the car in about 10 minutes.
Contact a Leesburg Family Law Attorney for Help
The Leesburg attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC are highly experienced in both family law and criminal matters, especially when these two areas cross paths. If you are being investigated by the police or are facing criminal charges for leaving your children in a vehicle unattended, call us right away at 703-997-4982 to learn how we can help.