5 Dangers of Leaving a Child in a Car Unattended

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When you’re juggling two arms full of groceries and a diaper bag, it can be very tempting to leave a child in the car unattended, just for long enough to drop your load and take a breather. There’s a chance that nothing tragic would happen; there are also a million reasons why you never, ever should. The dangers that lurk in and around your car can be quite surprising, even to the most cautious parent. Here are five of the reasons why you should never leave your child in the car unattended.

  1. Weather Conditions – Every summer, the media is spurred to run public service announcements to remind parents of the danger that they put their children in when they leave them unattended in a hot car by a handful of tragic deaths early in the season. Infants and small children are more sensitive to heat than adults, who may underestimate the temperature and the very real risk of heat stroke or even death that could result from even a short stint in a hot car. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, when the outdoor temperature is 93º, the interior of a car can rise to 125º after as little as twenty minutes.
  2. Children Can Accidentally Set Cars in Motion – Toddlers can be capable of escaping their car seats without a parent’s knowledge, leaving them free to move around the interior of the car in their absence. Bumping into or manipulating the parking break or gearshift can cause the car to roll down even a very slight incline; the potential for tragedy in such a situation is incredibly high. A moving vehicle can very quickly pick up speed in these incidences, creating a potentially hazardous situation for pedestrians as well as the child trapped inside of the vehicle.
  3. Kidnapping – The vast majority of children abducted in the United States are taken by a family member. In fact, the Department of Justice states that an estimated 82% of juvenile kidnapping cases involve a relative, rather than a stranger. While a child is clearly more likely to be abducted by a family member than a stranger, 18% is nothing to sneeze at. Leaving your child unattended in a vehicle, even on a temperate day with the windows down with no risk of the child accidentally setting the car in motion, is still leaving them open for attack. Though no parent wants to teach their child that there is danger lurking behind every bush and a kidnapper in every shadow, leaving a child unattended and unsupervised does have the potential to lead to every parent’s worst nightmare. Stranger abductions do happen, even in small towns across America.
  4. Choking and Strangulation Hazards – Alone in a car with no one to hear them, children can choke on food, toys and even found items if they manage to wriggle free of their car seat. In addition to the risk of choking, toddlers and small children may also tangle themselves in a seat belt, causing strangulation. There are so many surfaces and features inside of a car that could potentially harm a child, especially a small one who doesn’t quite grasp the concept of “risk.”
  5. Trunk Entrapment – Older children that are left in a car unattended have a tendency to get bored, especially if they have no mobile device or MP3 player to distract them. As every parent knows, boredom generally leads to trouble. The ability to access the trunk of some cars through the backseat was intended as a safety feature, but it may allow an inventive child to access the trunk and crawl inside. After closing themselves up, kids may not know how to get back out; in addition to the danger of heatstroke, kids could also suffocate after being trapped in a mostly-airtight trunk.

Depending on your state, you may even face criminal charges for leaving your child alone in the car; California, for example, has a law specifically prohibiting any adult from leaving their child unattended in a vehicle. Prosecutors across the country are filing child abuse and other related charges against the parents of children discovered in hot vehicles as well. There are so many things that can go wrong when a child is left unattended, even for the briefest moment; it’s simply not a wise choice to take such a risk with the life and well-being of a child at stake.

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