Many states now have safety laws against leaving children and pets unattended in a vehicle. Depending on the state and circumstances, the guilty can be issued a traffic ticket and fined, or, in extreme cases, charged with manslaughter and sentenced to a lengthy jail term.
Safety Laws Against Leaving a Child Unattended in a Car
Since 1998, 529 children have died in the United States from hyperthermia (heat stroke) after being left inside unattended vehicles. These numbers have prompted 19 states to legislate or propose safety laws against this neglect.
Law specifics vary with state, but in most instances are geared towards kids six years old and younger (Kentucky's law protects kids eight and younger).
The length of time a child can be left alone depends on state. Florida makes it illegal to leave a child inside a car unattended for more than 15 minutes, while Tennessee's makes it a crime after five minutes.
Penalties are based on harm to the child. Michigan, for example, charges the following:
- No injury to child: A misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days and/or a fine of up to $500.
- Serious physical harm to child: A felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
- Death of the child: A felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Most state laws give authorities the legal right to use any means possible to free an unattended child deemed to be in danger.
Traffic Laws Against Leaving a Pet Unattended in a Car
It only takes a few minutes for an unattended car's interior to jump from comfortable to dangerous for dogs and cats. On especially hot and sunny days, cracked windows provide no relief, causing unattended pets to die from heatstroke and suffocation.
The fact that this occurs all to often has spurred 14 states and many state jurisdictions to impose laws against leaving pets unattended in running or parked vehicles.
To learn about your state's laws regarding unattended pets in vehicles, you can:
Take Action Against Safety Law Violations
Call 911 if you sense that a child or pet left unattended in a vehicle is in grave danger. Don't hesitate. Don't go in search of the car owner. Dial 911 and let authorities handle the situation.
Have you ever found a child or pet left unattended in a vehicle? How did you handle the situation?