41 answers

Child Alone in a Car

At what age do you think it is appropriate to leave a child alone in the car for a few minutes? I'm assuming a locked car in a safe area, not in extreme temperatures. For example, it's surely safe to drop off a package in the post office with your 15 y.o. in the car alone. Can you do that with an 10 y.o.? A 7 y.o.? What's your opinion?

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The state law isn't very helpful. Ours (MI) says you "shall not leave that child unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child." They define child as under 6. So, legally, I can leave my kids birth through 5 in the car alone as long as it doesn't pose unreasonable risk of harm, and can leave kids 6 or older under any circumstances. Hopefully we all have the sense to be more cautious than that. I appreciate all the other Moms' wisdom about what you feel is safe and appropriate!

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I recently had to leave my 9 yr old in the car to go into a store and get dog food , we were out and she was too sick to go in. She stayed in the car all doors locked she was fine. She had a book.

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It would depend on how long they were in the car alone. My daughter is 13 and the most I've left her in the car alone is when I've been at the dry cleaners. The parking is right at the front of the store and I'm literally 10 steps away from the car. I put the alarm on though. That's just me =-)

Even at 15, if I was going to be out of eye sight, they are old enough to make it easier on my nerves and get out of the car with me.

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If I can't see my kids then they aren't alone in t,he car unless we are in the driveway and I forgot something. My boys are 8,5,10months and the older two can't be trusted not to physically fight when I am not around. I also worry about them being kidnapped!

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In Texas they have a 5 minute law. If you, for instance, park at the gas pump, you don't have to get the baby carrier out and haul a sleeping baby in to say $10 on pump 5 please. Of course, locked temperature controlled car that is within your sight. I would be more apt to leave a baby than a toddler. I worry a toddler can wriggle free and climb into the front seat. Any small boy that has shown an interest in how the car works would be a worry for me. So for me - sleeping baby yes - 7 yr old boy - no!

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It would depend on how long they were in the car alone. My daughter is 13 and the most I've left her in the car alone is when I've been at the dry cleaners. The parking is right at the front of the store and I'm literally 10 steps away from the car. I put the alarm on though. That's just me =-)

Even at 15, if I was going to be out of eye sight, they are old enough to make it easier on my nerves and get out of the car with me.

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I recently had to leave my 9 yr old in the car to go into a store and get dog food , we were out and she was too sick to go in. She stayed in the car all doors locked she was fine. She had a book.

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Suazanne, this is such a great question, and it's one that I've asked myself many times. I'm a car seat tech, and I cringe when parents leave babies in cars intentionally, and I always call 911 if I see it. But my oldest is 10 and the baby is 2, does that make me a hypocrite if I leave them in the car while I run into pay for gas (when the darn pay at the pump isn't working)? I don't know. Check your state laws, go to SafeKids.org or your local govt site maybe. This is what SafeKids says about IL:

"Children under age 7 may not be left unattended in a motor vehicle in excess of 10 minutes. A child is not considered unattended if accompanied by someone age 14 or older.*
*Please note that even if a state does not have a specific law prohibiting adults from leaving children unattended, state and local prosecuters have the discretion to criminally charge adults under existing child endangerment laws.

Michigan does not have a specific law addressing unattended children in cars, but again you can be charged at the officers' discretion.

I am not sure what I think on this. I always try to scare myself into not even running into the gas station with the kids in the car for a second, because even w/ the doors locked, I think what if some psychopath breaks my windows, steals my children, and I never see them again? I know that's a little crazy, but I'm super paranoid! And crazy myself, lol!

J.

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Having two young kids has been more than difficult when it comes to running to do things. I delivered my second when my first was 17 months. So getting them both to the car wasn't easy. I would take my oldest out first, buckle him in and come back to the house and grab the baby. Well last winter when he had just turned 2 and the baby was about 6 months I did that, and he managed to unbuckle himself climbed into the drivers seat and locked the car with him in it. Needless to say I have never done that again. If I don't want the hassle of taking them out and putting them back in, I don't go anywhere. Or I go when my husband is home and leave the kids home.

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Not if you can't see your 7 year old from inside the post office the entire time. I'm thinking 12. NEVER under 6!

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My sister parked right outside the gas station door, and ran in to give the guy some cash for the gas. when she came out, there was a lawyer who was also getting gas, and he said, "you know it's a misdemeanor in MIchigan to leave your kids in the car." Definitely check the law on what age that no longer applies. I agree with whoever said that you shouldn't leave them in the car if you wouldn't leave them home alone. and, NEVER with the keys until they can drive for themselves.

oprah once had a lady on who left 4 of her kids in the car in the driveway while she ran into the house. one of the children pulled out the cigarette lighter and the car started on fire, and they were all horribly burned.

another lady left her young son in the car when she ran in somewhere and when she came out someone was trying to take him. she tried to drive away, and the boy ended up falling out the window or something...moral of the story - don't take the chance, you never know what can happen.

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I never did that until I felt comfortable having them get out of the car and going into the store to find me by themselves, if they needed to.

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Well, I've left my kids strapped into their carseats while running into the gas station to grab a jug of milk or whatever. I live in a very safe place, park the van where I can see it out the window and make sure there's no line before I go in.

I guess the idea that someone would be waiting on the 'off' chance that someone would leave kids in a car, then break the window (cuz I leave them closed and the doors locked) in broad daylight and climb over the seat to unbuckle the car seats to steal my children is too out-there for me. My parents used to leave us in the car ALL the time and never once were we approached. I just don't subscribe to the mentality of "the world is out to get me" like so many people do. I'd actually be LESS inclined to leave children that were *not* strapped into carseats and *were* able to open the doors and jump out. But that's just me.

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If I can't see my kids then they aren't alone in t,he car unless we are in the driveway and I forgot something. My boys are 8,5,10months and the older two can't be trusted not to physically fight when I am not around. I also worry about them being kidnapped!

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for most states the law is something like 1ft/1min away according to age or 10ft/10min ... really it is up to you and what you are comfortable with. At the gas station if I have to go inside and pay or he needs to have a drink I will run in and leave him in the locked car and get it ... but not if there is a line, I will just wait.

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Hmmm toughy. My kids are 6 and 8. They only place I have ever left them in the car is at a local 7-11 convenience store to run in and get milk. I get the closest parking spot where I can see the car the whole time since the building has an all glass front. I take the keys with me and lock them in the car. Maybe by age 10 I'd be ok with a 3-5 min run in the store where I couldn't see them?

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On second thought, check your state laws... Regardless of what we think may be a safe thing to do, it's best to see what the laws are regarding this issue, and go from there.

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This is a really interesting question b/c there have been so many times when I would look in the backseat and think "OMG... it's going to take me longer to unhook you than if I just ran in and ran out..." but then the paranoia sets in and I take him out (almost 3).

I would think that under 7 is really risky b/c they just don't get the idea of "come inside if you need me", especially if the doors are locked and they are strapped into a booster or seatbelt (which they should be). If the child needed you, would he/she be able to undo the restraint and get inside?

I remember my mom leaving me in the car around age 8 or 9 with my little sister to run into the bank for a minute, but then again that was 20+ years ago.

I also worry that a "quick errand" may turn into something much longer than expected. I "ran into the post office" yesterday to mail a package (already boxed and addressed) and it took me almost 40 minutes...

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Depending on where we are and how safe the area is. And I still bring my 10 yo in with me for the exact reason Tracy said. He is very interested in how cars work and has even started it without me in the car.
I left my girls in the car at about 9 or 10, but they didn't steal my keys.

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I think it really depends on the child, the location and the situation. How far away are you? Can they get a hold of you? What time of day is it? My youngest is 11. I probably started leaving him in the car for short errands at age 9 or 10. I still sometimes make him come in with me depending on the circumstances. He is small and looks younger than 11 so I've often wondered if people see him and wonder if I've left a much younger child. Fortunately, my back van windows are tinted and I don't think he can be seen.

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If they are old enough to be left alone at home or to babysit (around 12 or so), then they can be left in the car for a very short period of time.

States actually have laws regarding this though, I'm sure you can find out in a quick google search.

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Ask your police department. I had a friend who they(the police) took her kids away because she ran into store. It was a huge ordeal, she told me that it takes 30 seconds to kidnap a child . SO unless they know karate and I know this sounds extreme I would wait until they can drive on their own.

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I've left my then 3 year old in a car for about 7 minutes... things where I knew the unbuckling and taking out of car, replacing in car and re-buckling would have taken longer than the actual errand.

She's 5 now and will sometimes ASK to stay in the car because she knows it'll be a real quick errand.

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If you can't see the car while you're out of it, I'm not a fan of ever leaving kids alone in there. I always worry about someone accidentally running into the car when I'm not in there and the child being in there alone.

Or someone coming up to the car...if there is a young girl by herself in the car it could draw some creep who happens to be walking by to approach the car. I might be on the extreme end of this, but this actually happened to me when I was a teenager - approached by a scary creepy dude when my mom was inside the gas station. Thankfully nothing happened but it's prompted me to be sure my daughter never has to worry about that.

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I'm probably going to wait until she's 13 or so. If I can see her I'd say 11, like in the gas station. But it may depend on the child too and the area you live in. In my hometown I wouldn't leave her in the car unless she had a taser and some mace lol. It all depends, I too am always paranoid about her being kidnapped.
At least your asking, I waited 25 mins one time because this girl left her BABY and a 4 year old little girl in the car while she went inside the school somewhere (it's a spread out college). The door was locked, car running, but dern you can't trust people and what if the car broke down, they'd have been scorched (it was summer). I gave her a good chewing out. I mean the college is VERY kid friendly, there was no reason to leave a baby (I mean like 3 months old) and 4 year old in a car. Not saying anyone on here is stupid enough to do that it just made me think of that day :(

Update: I agree with Laurie G's post that if you can't trust your child with the keys in the car don't leave them in the car because the car needs to have A/C or something on. And yeah the kidnapping factor, thank goodness that little boy didn't get kidnapped... you think it will never happen to you until one day it almost does.. scaryyyy

I probably will end up never leaving her in the car unless I can see her because I agree with another poster, it takes 30 seconds to kidnap a child and I do not want my child to be a victim and I believe you shouldn't walk into fire expecting not to get burned at some point. Sad that there are creeps in the world who will hurt children.

If you can't see them ask yourself, is whatever your getting worth risking a kidnap (I know that sounds lunaticish, but I am like another poster Jess and am super duper paranoid)

Sorry so long and now you know I am very indecisive on this particular topic but will probably make my irritated 11 yr old come in the store with me haha

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A 15 year old is old enough to drive. I never let my kids stay in the car when they were younger than 13. One of the best things they ever did for moms was Pay-At-the-Pump at gas stations.

D.

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I find your question very interesting and timely. I dealt with a similar situation just yesterday. I had to pick my kindergartener up from school and to do so, I have to actually go into the entryway of the school. I had my 11-month-old and four-year-old along with me. It was about 1 degree out and my four-year-old was asleep. My 11-month-old cannot wear his coat in his car seat so to get them out for the minute-longnerrand would have involved waking the four-year-old and putting the baby's coat on while he is in the cold and then dragging both the short distance from the car to the doors. I chose to park as close as possible, locked the doors and ran and got my daughter. I could see the van, it was locked, and I was gone for less than a minute. I don't see how anything could have happened; I had the van locked, the kids are too young to get out of their carseats on their own, there were other parents coming and going, and I could see the van. If someone had had the audacity to try to break into my van, I would have been out there in a heartbeat since I had my eyes on the vehicle the entire time. However, if the errand takes more than a minute or I can't see the vehicle, the kids ALWAYS come out with me.

I have 3 children ages 11, 8 and 4. I have NEVER left them alone in the car to run into a store, gas station, post office, bank and I wouldn't leave them alone at the ages they are....EXCEPT one time about a month ago, I ran up to the night drop at my bank, turned off the car, took the keys with me BUT it was such a short distance (literally I climbed 3 small steps, dropped in my envelope and I was done) that I didn't feel the need to take all 3 of them out just to put an envelope in the night drop. It's a very judgmental call on your part. To leave a 15 year old in the car, yes, I believe that would be okay but I would lock the doors but I would NEVER leave them in the car alone with the windows rolled up and car turned off if I was running into the store or something like that ~ always leave the A/C on. I wouldn't leave my children in the car alone at the ages they currently are at even with the car running. I just feel that children are way too naive, way too unpredictable, and shouldn't be left unsupervised in a vehicle. But for a 15 year old, I say it would be okay...but it's always a judgment call depending on the neighborhood and then of course, the time you expect to be away from the vehicle too.

Many states and cities have laws and ordinances on leaving children alone in cars. The age and circumstances varies state by state, city by city.

In light of the rash of children being left in cars in hot weather and less than ideal situations, this is more of a legal question versus a parenting question. I think it's probably best you find out what the law is where you live then taking the advice of folks who don't live in your area.

I know alot of moms who buck the system saying..."it's only a few seconds" only to have something bad happen. A friend of my husband's mom left her grandkids in the car to get something at a StarBuck's. She was parked on the street right in front of the shop and could see the car from inside. But in the few seconds she was distracted paying for her cup of Joe, the toddler got out of her seat, disengaged the clutch and toddler and car wound up in a nearby creekbed. Luckily no one inside or outside the rolling car got hurt...and all that happened was she had to pay for a tow and the insurance deductible, and earn back the trust of her children so she could contiue to spend time with her granddaughter.

Older kids probably aren't much wiser. They still might monkey with gears, knobs or buttons, and then there's the possibility of kidnapping or carjacking as there is no adult.

It's a tough call. I probably wouldn't do it. But I guess if you're in a bind, I'd go with what the law is in your area.

I think never, or perhaps 16. if they are old enough to be safe then they are old enough to unbuckle themselves and walk in with you, if they are too young to be conveniently placed into the car then they are too young to be alone.

To run into a post office i say a 10 year old maybe i have done it but my 10 year old is very mature. Plus if its to stand in line for a more than 3 mins no. I don't feel comfy with that so post office no. to drop something off at someones house yes to run inot cvs i have to because she wanted to stay in. My out look is locked car all times no extreame temps and as long as there grown up enough its ok but if your gonna be in somewhere more than 10 mins no. I just don't feel its right. but than this is for you not to be calling on others. because what really bugs me is when someone else sticks there nose into someone elses situations. But for your presonal well being I don't leave them alone for more than ten min and if so i have my eye on them in the car the whole time or go back and get them if its going to be longer than 10 mins. But no one under 10. if theres others in the car and they are younger than if its not going to be an in and out thing with the 10 year old to watch them than no take them all in. I use to be ok with it till someone butted there nose in one day and said something to me so now i am too scared and take them all in.

I would not do it untill they were teenage. I dont find making sure my child is safe, a hassle or to much of a inconvience to take her with me when I go in the store or gas staion. It only takes takes a second for some dumba$$ to do whatever steal the car or take my kid. A few years back in the kc area a woman went in the gas station in "broad" daylight to get her son a drink and a man stole her car, she went chasing after it trying to get her son out and was trying to pull him out the back door of the car and he was hung up on the seatbelt and was drug to his death by the carjacker all while his mother and helpless others watched and could do nothing. All beacause his mom thought it would be easier to go in without him...Imagine her guilt. I say safety trumps everything when it comes to my daughter !!

I wouldn't until they are teenagers jammin' to their ipods! LOL Like Amanda if I run into the cleaners or pizza place..I am close and can see the kiddos..better to be safe than sorry these days.

Age 12 or 13 at a minimum with a cell phone and the doors locked (for no more than 15 minutes)....that's my opinion.

It actually depends on the state you live in. Look it up- I think in Texas it is 14

why in other countries outside USA children left in the car alone are fine and here is such a big problem to leave a kid in the car for a short period of time? Just questioning? I never left my son alone in the car except while I fill the gas tank.

Do what you feel is best, BUT....check out this local article from my town in Michigan....although looks like your safe from the law as long as they are older than 5.

http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2009/09/sagin...

My daughter is nine. I let her stay in the car if I have to run in to drop off a sibling at a class or run into a store for under five minutes. She is fine. It was her idea and she asks to stay in the car.

Wow.. great questions..! I have left my 3 kids in the car when I have my aunt pull in and park besides me if she was out and about..lmao I know it sounds silly but sometimes it's a pain in the butt to drag the 3 kids in for one thing.. but that being said if I had to go to the post office and my aunt was out I would have her park alongside my car while I ran in. other than that.. never!! but then again my kids are 6, 4, & 2.. so that being said I would prob wait so do short errands when they're around perhaps 14..15.. but then again they'd prob wanna stay at home why I ran errands anyway or perhaps they'd be at school. To me you shouldn't have kids if you dont' want to deal with the circumstances of having children.. :)

i think its 14. but if you knew a pediphile was in the car next to you, would you risk it?

I would think around 10, depending how responsible your child is. I think they should be able to leave the car and come get you if absolutely needed, and also to be told to keep the doors locked and don't let anyone in. I've often thought about what a pain it is to unbuckle my two kids and drag them into a store for one thing, but then again they are too young (3 and 1) to be left out of my sight. The only thing I've done is drop off a library book in the slot and return a movie to redbox while they were in the car, and even those make me nervous!

7 would be fine in the situation you're describing.

I am reading a book right now called Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker. It's all about keeping your kids safe while still managing to keep yourself sane in our increasingly violent world. The book doesn't address this particular situation but it does address a good set of "rules" for when it is OK to leave kids at home alone. I would say these same rules would apply to leaving them in a car. In this book, Mr. DeBecker provides a look at how predators work, how they select their targets, and how parents can protect their children. A VERY interesting fact that he provides is that kidnapping by a total stranger is a teeney, tiny portion of all kidnappings that take place - it is almost always done by someone the child or family already knows. I know this is getting a bit off track but this book does give a good set of rules that your child should meet before being left alone at home (and I would say that extends to in a car).
It's so frustrating because I can remember, as a kid, being left in the car quite often - and not in a bad way, it was just a much different world 25 years ago where my mom could run into a store for 3 minutes and not have to worry about me in a locked car...
Great question, by the way!

I've done it before. But I can't help but think, what if I walk in the store where I can see the car and will only be there for a minute.....what if someone is robbing that store and I can't get back?

At 10 and 7 though, they're old enough to open the car door to escape, run for help, or go inside. I know at that age my mom left me in the car, for long periods of time. It wasn't scaring. We lived in a small town though, and that was long ago. It was usually because we didn't want to go in with her.

Never. If I have my kids with me, regardless of their age---they come out of the car. Too many things could happen when they are sitting their unattended in the car. I would rather take the time to get them out than risk a tragedy. Even at 15, I would want them to come with me.
M

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