Friday, July 10, 2009

On Leaving Babies in Cars (For a "Quick Errand")

I'm not talking about the accidental forgetting of children in cars (see terrifying Washington Post article). I'm talking about, if I am picking up food at Layla's Falafel that I know is ready, and the baby is asleep in his carseat, can I just leave him there for three minutes, rather than haul him out and me have to fend off people who are going to get all up in his face to try to get a peek?
I am so paranoid about my baby that I wouldn't leave him in the car, but I believe people do this quite commonly. A couple months ago on Greenwich Ave, a woman left her 4 week old in the car to do an errand at a bank. When she came out, someone had called 911 (which you HAVE to do, because you don't know if the person forgot their kid or not) and the cops were already there. She said she could see the car the whole time, but they arrested her.

When is it OK to leave a kid in the car for just a few minutes? I doubt the law says, "Parents may leave a child in a car as long as they can see it from the window of the store, and as long as their errand does not take longer than ten minutes."
My husband says, When the kid is old enough to let himself out in an emergency, it's OK. I don't agree. I think they need to be like, 11. Or as old as it takes for them to have common sense not to break something in the car, or let a stranger steal them, or to accidentally put the car in drive.
I suppose the situation falls under the area of neglect and endangerment, but that's pretty subjective. I want to know, can you leave your baby in the car or not? Or, like most things, is it OK as long as you don't get caught?

OK, I found the law:
"An act concerning the penalty for leaving a child unsupervised in a place of public accommodation or motor vehicle.
(a) Any parent, guardian or person having custody or control, or providing supervision, of any child under the age of twelve years knowingly leaves such child unsupervised in a place for a period of time that presents a vehicle for a period of time that presents a substantial risk to the child's health or safety, shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor...
(c) Any parent, guardian or person having custody or control, or providing supervision, of any child under the age of twelve years knowingly leaves such child unsupervised in place of public accommodation or motor vehicle between the hours of eight o'clock p.m. and six o'clock a.m. for a period of time that presents a substantial risk to the child's health or safety, shall be guilty of a Class C felony."

See, it's subjective. Is three minutes alone in a cool, locked car a "substantial risk to the child's health or safety?" I say no. I think the woman on Greenwich Ave basically just left her kid alone for too long, long enough for people to notice and worry. So, she messed up, but you can see how she could easily think she had done no wrong.

I'd never leave my baby alone in the car, because here's how I think: "What if someone ran into my car with my baby in it, and he was trapped? I'd want to be trapped WITH him. Or, what if I fainted in the store, and no one knew I had a baby in the car? What if there is an explosion in the store and I'm knocked out? My baby could overheat in the car." I mean, weirder things have happened, right?

By the way, the Washington Post article is worth a read, but it's really, really depressing. Between 15 and 25 kids die each year when their caregivers accidentally leave them in the car. The biggest thing I got from the article was a) when you are tired and busy, your memory can short circuit and b) to avoid that, leave your purse in the backseat by the carseat so you won't forget your kid. A sleeping kid is a quiet kid, and a busy parent who is not used to taking the kid to daycare might forget he/she has the kid in the car and just go right to work. The article profiles a couple of these devastated people and describes how the scenario can easily happen to a tired, distracted person.


StamfordNotes said...

Yeah, but you didn't even address the risk of bears! Check out Streets of Stamford's new entry.

Anonymous said...

Don't be ridiculous. There are too many things that could happen...and per your husbands comment, if they can let themselves out at 4-5 yrs old, then they can also reach the road to play in traffic. Next time try falafel home delivery.

Stamford Talk said...

Layla's on High Ridge doesn't deliver, is the problem- does the downtown one?
But yes, exactly. Too many things could happen- explosions, asteroids, stuff falling from Trump Tower, etc.

Marty said...

Melina said...

K, why your husband is wrong:...because even my boy who is 15 now, but was 14 at the time, and his best friend, who has lived with us off an on for years...last year, the two of them together...sat in the car as it got SO hot as to have steamed windows, in the parking lot of Shoprite. They wouldn't come in to the market in the first place because it seemed too much like work. This is what happened: I always leave the keys so they can get out of the car if they want to. Well, for some reason the car alarm went off, BUT they were afraid that if they got out of the car to come and get me that the police would come or something...they are always so aware of how a kid alone (especially a teen) is treated and the horn was beeping.
So when I came out of the market and approached my car with the steamy windows and opened the door and turned off the honking, they tumbled out, all flushed...I was asking them, like, "why didn't you get out ? one of you at least?"
And they had reasons, but they were all knuckle headed. Just like when they've taken a walk and are lost, the just keep going.
These are smart boys but their reasoning is not developed. AND they will be in drivers ed in 1 year!!
Thats why not to leave any baby or kid in the car alone...carjacking, explosions and just plain knuckleheadedness.
Now, when you get along in this kid rearing thing, you will be less worried about every little thing, because alot of everything is that you just do your best and try to keep them safe. Its hard to stick to things 100% because of how the world is, so I cant say I never left him cant drive yourself too crazy. I think if you have a second kid you will understand that more. Y'know, one has to pee and the other is asleep. What do you do?
So, for instance, on long ridge rd just north of the Merritt there is a bank of America machine. I could pull up to it and jump out and lock Will (as a baby)in the car, walk 5 paces and get some cash...
he is locked in...I have the keys...5 ft away...What would you do?

Whitemist said...

The reality of a subjective law is that it is not up to the parents, it is up to anyone around to make the call, so the police can be very creative in their use of power in a case like this.

Jane said...

My answer is simple, and requires no judging of individual situations--NEVER leave a child alone in a car, until the child is old enough to be left unsupervised for hours. Period. And while I'm preaching, I'll offer two other inviolable rules to help assure your kid survives babyhood reasonably unscathed: 1) Never take your hand off the baby when he or she is on the changing table. If you need to reach something further away, take said baby with you, yes, even if naked and wet or poopy. The speed with which a baby can flip off the table is amazing, and you'll never know what day they've first mastered the trick. 2) Completely empty the bathtub before removing the baby/toddler. (They actually enjoy watching the water disappear, especially the gurgly part at the end.) The phone may ring, the cat may barf on your shoe, but whatever the distraction, there won't be a pool of water waiting to
drown your kid--and it only takes an inch.

Melina said...

I never understood the changing table thing anyway. In my day it was unusual to find one in a public bathroom...but otherwise, at home I just put a towel on the bed or couch.
Never leave the baby alone on the bed either...they roll fast!
Bring phone into bathroom if you dont have an answering machine...if bathing the child bores you then listen to the pod or something so as not to get distracted and wander away.
But, if youre standing outside of the car with the keys in your hand, I see no reason that the kid cant sleep in there. Just stay by the car....errands are no excuse....but, do your best. We are all only human and there is so much danger out there that one could never leave the house....
and when they are older, NEVER assume that they have common sense enough to get out of a hot car or call 911. You have to repeat it to them till they yell at you to stop telling them that!
And my kid is smart...its a common sense and experience issue, and Im convinced that even by the time they go to college they are not necessarily right up there with what to do in certain cases.
Im surprised I mom had me in her early 20's and she hardly watched us!...we only had lap belts in our cars!! no car seats! she smoked!!

Anonymous said...

Experienced parents know that but for the grace of [insert deity of choice], there go they - no matter WHAT precautions you take SOMETHING can always happen.

Yes, you can reduce risk to the best of your ability. But that doesn't always work and experienced parents know that you can never say never. They don't say "I would never - because someday, they might have to." They don't say "--- would never happen." Because it does. Sh*t happens despite your best efforts.

The single biggest problem mothers have is other mothers who judge them. Maybe we should offer help if someone seems like she's about to make a mistake like leaving the baby in the car. Ask if she needs a hand. Offer to watch the car. Offer to walk the older kid into school. Offer to bring the dry cleaning in.

I left my kids in the car at the vet - there were two aggressive Belgian Malinois (bigger than German Shepherds) in the waiting room. My children are 7 and 4 and their faces are exactly at eye level with the dogs. I decided that they were in more danger in the waiting room than they were in the car, with the windows and doors open and the keys with me, 20' away.

Never say never. And don't judge another mother until you've walked in her shoes.

anne said...

I just got to work and am still stewing. I'd stopped to pick up coffee at a bagel place up the road from my office. When I walked out, there was a Subaru wagon parked in the lot, with two toddlers and no adult. I walked back into the bagel place.

"Does anyone here own the Subaru?" I asked. No answer. I turned to the people behind the counter. "There are two toddlers alone in a car outside. You might want to call the local police." (Which I'd have done if I hadn't forgotten my cell phone today.)

At that point, a guy turns around from the coffee station and says, "I have the Subaru. What's the problem?"

I replied, "There are two toddlers. Alone. In the car."

"Yeah?" he snarled. "So? What's wrong with that? I can see them."

"You know, a woman in Greenwich just got arrested for the same thing," I pointed out.

At that point he looked a little chagrined, and also I think decided he just didn't want to get into it with me (the feeling was, frankly, mutual), so he said, "OK. I'll hurry."

What a jerk. I mean, I know it's a hassle to do a quick errand (especially one involving hot coffee) with one toddler; I am sure it's much crazier if not impossible with two. But the smarter choice here is to skip the bagel and coffee until later.

Stamford Talk said...

Good for you for speaking up.

First of all, that guy probably didn't realize the cops could become involved, so now he will be more aware.
Second, if you'd said to yourself, "Oh it's no biggie, I'm sure it's just someone in the bagel store," well, weirder things have happened, and if those kids had been injured, you'd have known you should have said something. (Maybe the parent was TRULY an idiot, or cracked out fool, and was going to leave the kids in there for 30 minutes.)

Another thing I was thinking about, is couldn't a toddler choke pretty easily? And if someone leaves their kid alone in the car for even two minutes, that's plenty of time for a toddler to get into trouble... especially one who knows how to get out of his carseat!

I don't mean to be leading the "nanny state" charge, but there are too many cases of people doing stupid things, and speaking up when kids are left alone in cars is a small thing to do to help avoid accidents.

Marty said...

Everyone should do their part to help protect infants, toddlers & kids. This world can be a hectic place, and often the parents might appreciate the help... and somtimes not but it's worth the effort. Some people are just jerks, some are just unaware..but the kids are just kids asking for help. Next time you see a child alone in a car just call the police, you'll be reporting a crime.

Anonymous said...

Our society is trying to condition all parents to be totally paranoid about all the dangers that could possibly exist for children at any given moment; the laws and safety requirements in place today make parenthood/childcare 100 x's more of a pain in the ass than it used to be.

I do believe there are times you can flout the law, but only very judiciously and RARELY. My spouse has a coworker from Europe who was arrested for leaving napping toddlers in a car during a visit to a rural vacation spot upstate. The coworker is still sorting out the resulting fallout from that, and she is not some neglectful derelict. The laws are just not as rigid in other countries.

Anonymous said...

I was just watching some detective show on TV and the story was about a brother and sister reunited after 30 years. The sister was left in a baby carriage outside a store while the mother shopped because I guess back then thats how it worked and you werent allowed to bring the carriage inside even. So the girl gets kidnapped and for the next 30 years people were looking for her. She turns up in Illinois (kidnapped fom somewhere New England).

I thought mostly, wow, people left their kids outside? But then the comment was that this was the way it was.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the woman and three children who died a few years ago after their minivan plunged into the pond at Beardsley Park in Bridgeport? She left the children (aged 2 - 6 years old) in the car for just a few minutes, and was just a few feet away asking for directions. She died trying to save them. Their story is a constant reminder to me that it is never ok to leave the kids in the car.

Anonymous said...

If you are at ALL considering leaving your child in the car for a quick errand, I strongly suggest that you read the Washington Post article. Hearing those heart-wrenching stories should be enough to make you think twice.