While I personally wouldn’t leave my three-year-old in the car unattended, I have to question the wisdom of immediately calling the police in such a scenario. The child was not locked in a hot car with the windows up. She was resting comfortably for a few moments while her mom ran an errand. Why is the instinct in that scenario to immediately get police involved? Shouldn’t we assess these things on a case by case basis and invoke a little bit of logic?

20 states have laws on the books about leaving children unattended in vehicles, but the majority do not, and the guidelines vary from state to state. In my state, for example, the law states children under age six may not be left unattended for any amount of time. In others, children may not be left unattended for ‘an amount of time that constitutes a substantial risk to their health.’ What amount of time is that, exactly? I’m willing to bet each of us has a different answer.

It’s human to want to step in when someone is in danger, but we have to remember that just because a parent does something differently than we might does not mean their kid is in distress. If a child’s health and well-being is threatened, that’s one thing, but we have to use better judgment in cases where the level of risk is open to interpretation. Just happening to see a child alone in a car is not justification for having someone arrested, and doing so might end up harming the child far beyond the danger you imagined in the first place.

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