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Attorney Renee C. Walsh

Leaving Child Unattended in Vehicle

Did you know that it is a crime to leave a child unattended in a vehicle if they could be harmed?  I suppose that I knew that if anyone ever saw me do this, I could get a visit from Child Protective Services, but I really hadn’t thought that my actions could rise to the level of a crime.

Roughly a third of the States have laws against leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.  Michigan codifies this statute in the penal code at MCL 750.135a.  The law is applicable to children less than age 6 and those that are left alone or without the supervision of an individual 13 years of age or older who is not legally incapacitated.  It requires that a person who is responsible for the care or welfare of a child shall not leave that child unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child. Violation is a 93 day / $500 misdemeanor and if the child is physically injured, the sentence is increased to a 1 year / $1,000 misdemeanor. If the child is seriously physically harmed, the crime is aggravated to the status of a 10 year / $5,000 felony. If the child dies, the crime is a 15 year / $10,000 felony.

We parents have at least considered leaving the kids in the car while we ran into the house to grab a forgotten item.  In the unfortunate event that you find yourself at the police station accounting for your actions, you must be able to say that there is no way you could have anticipated that injury could occur.

Children left alone in the car on a hot summer day are at risk of heat stroke and even death.  Every now and then we hear about a car being stolen with a child inside.  Children can be abducted from cars.  They could choke or hang themselves with the seat belt.  They could get caught in the power windows.  They could set the car into motion.   As parents we know that we have to anticipate the unanticipated and with the collateral at stake better, it to be safe than sorry.

If there is any possibility that the child could be injured, then they should not be left alone.  The longer they are in the car alone, the more the risk goes up.

If you would like to know your state’s law, please send me a request.

Discussion:

  1. I came upon a parked vehicle with the engine running in a busy parking lot of a suburban retail store. There were 3 girls about age 10. It was about 10 min. before the adult came out of the store. Is this legal?

    • Dear Concerned:

      Michigan’s law applies to children less than age 6, so Michigan’s criminal statute would not apply. However, this could be a violation of local ordinance. Many local governments have ordinances against leaving vehicles unattended, such that the operator or person in charge of the vehicle cannot leave it unattended on any street, alley, other public property, new or used car lot, or any private parking lot to which the general public is invited without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition, and removing the ignition key from the vehicle.

  2. When I was less than a year old, my mom left my twin sister and I in a car with the heat on, because she had to run in the store for a minute and she didn’t want us to get cold. She was on her way to the laundry mat. She sat our car seat on each side of a laundry basket in the backseat and covered us up with blankets. Then, a guy came and drove off with her van, unaware that we were in the backseat. A few blocks down the road, he heard us crying. He pulled over, called the police, and then ran off. My mom didn’t press charges. It happened in 1992. Should my mom have gotten in trouble?

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