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Leaving Kids Alone...In Cars

With the unofficial start of summer over the Memorial Day weekend, parents and caregivers are once again being reminded about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 605 children died in hot cars from 1998 to 2013. Nineteen states now have laws making it illegal to leave children under certain ages unattended in cars (Georgia does not have such a law; see discussion below).

The harm from being left in a hot car is only one of many risks associated with unsupervised children in vehicles, however. KidsandCars.org is an organization that raises awareness about public safety issues surrounding children and vehicles. Children above a certain age can undo seat belts and move around in a car, while children under a certain age risk seat belt strangulation if left alone. Children can disengage the emergency brake, get a body part stuck in a window or seat belt, or move the seat in a way that tightens the seat belt too much.

Children can also open doors--and leave the vehicle. There have been cases where children who were left in cars supposedly "safe in their seat belts in a locked car" were found wandering the parking lot by concerned shoppers and/or police. For the same reason that parents should not leave children under a certain age at home alone to run an errand, they should not leave them in a car to do so. Leaving children under a certain age unattended, no matter where, is dangerous. Too often, parents and caregivers think they will be in a store for "five minutes," only to return to their car 20 to 30 minutes later to find police waiting for them--or worse.

GEORGIA LAW

As mentioned above, Georgia has no specific law pertaining to leaving children under a certain age unattended in a vehicle. This does not mean, however, that a person who does so is not violating the law. It simply means that people will be prosecuted using existing laws and based on the circumstances of each case. For example, if a parent intentionally left a four year old child in a car while shopping, the parent might be charged with child endangerment, and child abuse/neglect, depending on whether the child suffered any harm. Prosecutors and courts do take into consideration whether there was an emergency (such as a parent stopping briefly into a pharmacy to get a child's medicine) and whether there was another child old enough to supervise the younger child or children in the car.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:

When trying to decide if your child or children are old enough to leave in your car for that quick errand or stop in the store, below are a few helpful tips:

  1. First and foremost, know the law of the state in which you are currently; if that state has a law specific to leaving children unattended in vehicles, it will most likely have a minimum age or include a standard for determining whether your child or children are appropriately mature to leave unattended;
  2. A general rule to follow is that if your child is in a car seat, he/she is too young to be left alone;
  3. Know your child or children: are they mature enough to know if they or the other children in the car need help? Would they know how to safely get help if it is needed?

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you have questions about the risks of hot cars and children being left unattended in cars, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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