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I have heard that in some areas it is illegal to leave a child unattended in a car, even for an instant, and possibly even if you are within direct sight of the care. It seems that the laws for this vary from area to area.

Barring specific laws, how old should a child be before they are left alone in a car? Under what circumstances is this acceptable (within sight, out of sight but reachable by cell phone, under a certain duration, etc.)?

At what point does an older sibling being present count as not leaving a younger child alone?

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closed as too broad by DA01, Beofett Jul 23 '13 at 15:03

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This might have regional issues. A car in Arizona becomes an oven in pretty short order. –  Philip Apr 4 '13 at 20:34
    
Asking 'what is acceptable' outside the legal definitions doesn't seem like a question that's going to have an agreed upon answer. –  DA01 Apr 14 '13 at 4:59
    
Ah memories... I must have been 7 or 8 when my father left me and my brother in the car while popping in to a shop. He'd just left the car in gear, no handbrake. And I pressed the clutch and the car started rolling! I remember pushing down the brake pedal with all my strength and screaming at my brother to 'get Dad'. All's well that ends well, but... –  Benjol Apr 19 '13 at 7:19
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Depends on the car, where you live, the temperature outside, the temperment of the child, social norms in your region, laws in your region, etc, etc. –  DA01 Jul 23 '13 at 13:49
    
I agree with the closer vote, and since I'm reasonably sure the OP won't mind, I've closed this. I think there may bw a legitimate question somewhere in here, but I can't figure or how to words it to be focused enough to maintain on-topic, quality answers. Hind sight is 20/20! –  Beofett Jul 23 '13 at 21:47
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5 Answers

I doubt there is any definitive literature out there on this, so answers will be somewhat subjective. I think the maturity of the child is the primary factor in this kind of decision. Barring laws against it and extreme weather of any kind:

Within reach (as in, you prop open the door and sit within a few feet while they finish a nap or pretend to drive the car) - any age

Within sight (as in, you are in the house but can see them through the window, the car windows are down and the car is inaccessible to strangers) - age 7 or 8. This is the age we allow children to be in the library where I work without having their parents in the same area. It is an age at which children can call out for help.

Out of sight but reachable by cell phone - 12 to 14, which is the age at which you might leave them alone at home. 12 to 14 year-olds are capable of using the cell phone and of locking the door to safeguard themselves. Duration depends on maturity and the location of the car. Some children would be okay left in pairs though not alone.

In all cases, the keys are not in the car with the child.

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I'd be happy to leave even younger kids in the car for a short time if within sight - i.e. kids within sight not just the car - and if the car is in a safe spot. Only however if they physically can't change any important state of the car such as turn on the engine, release the parking brake etc. Also be aware that if they can get out of the seat they may change settings such as turn headlights on, change radio volume, ... –  user548 Apr 16 '13 at 6:27
    
@user548 You just brought back vivid memories of turning on the car to find static-y radio blaring and wipers swiping. Little ones do love to play drive. –  MJ6 Apr 16 '13 at 15:05
    
I'd leave a sleeping baby in the car in the drive with the window cracked. Sleep is golden. –  superluminary Apr 22 '13 at 16:16
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In the UK the laws don't really specify, but there is a great deal of emphasis on the child's capability.

For example, we let our 10 and 12 year old cycle to the shop by themselves (about a mile away) but we wouldn't leave them alone in a car for that length of time or at that distance - the risk profile is different.

When they were babies, if they fell asleep in the car on the way home we would leave them in the car with a window ajar, parked in front of the house so we could check on them regularly.

A baby strapped into a car seat is in most situations a much lower risk than a teenager, who may want to play with the handbrake etc. so age isn't necessarily what you should focus on.

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There's nothing special about a car. Alone at home, alone in a car, alone in the mall - they're all the same from a legal standpoint.

Back when I was babysitting age, 12 was the magic age. At 12 you could babysit a sibling or a stranger, or you could be left alone. That was also the age the airlines used to define unaccompanied minor. The law where you live may declare something similar, or may not specify an age. Twelve seems reasonable to me, for most 12-year-olds anyway and for short periods of time alone. I don't think I'd leave an infant with a 12 year old though.

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This isn't entirely accurate. I know in my jurisdiction there are very specific laws that address leaving children unattended in a car versus (for example) leaving them at home; what age, how long you can be out of direct line of sight, what constitutes a "quick run" into the local 7-Eleven etc, etc. –  Robert Cartaino Apr 3 '13 at 22:55
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Some aspects do make the car "special": risk of overheating on sunny days; risk of accidental kidnapping during car theft (don't laugh, there are too many stories in the news about this); risk of the car rolling or driving away (not necessarily caused by the child). –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 4 '13 at 14:40
    
Agreed, but where I live the few laws there are and the guidance used by child services don't include hard and fast things like ages, or mentions of specific locations. It's all judgement on the part of the investigators. –  Chrys Apr 4 '13 at 14:42
    
@Chrys that's exactly why I was hoping to avoid legal discussion and instead focus on safety. –  Beofett Apr 4 '13 at 20:46
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@Beofett Yes, you did say that in your question, but I hadn't noticed the first time around that your question is actually "At what age is it reasonable/responsible to leave a child alone in a parked car?" which is likely why we veered into legal jurisdictions. –  Robert Cartaino Apr 4 '13 at 20:50
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In Maryland (USA), there is a law that makes it illegal.

Children under the age of 8 may not be left unattended in a motor vehicle. A child is considered supervised if accompanied by someone age 13 or older.

http://www.safekids.org/in-your-area/safety-laws/maryland-unattended-children-in-cars-law-156.html

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Please elaborate. There must be some sort of age indication in the law you mention. Are there also other limitations or conditions, like location, duration, or time of day? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 13 '13 at 11:41
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In Washington, you cannot leave a child under 16 in a running car. That's all it says. Lol, Hey, what if my fourteen year old gets a hardship licence to drive me to work? Ridiculous!

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