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Children in Cars. What Every Parent Should Know.

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As summertime approaches, we tend to see a lot more cases of children left inside hot vehicles.  An average of 38 children dies in the United States every year due to heat exhaustion after parents leave their children unattended in vehicles.  California is one of only 20 states that have laws on the books (Kaitlyn’s Law), which makes it a crime to leave a child (6 years or under) unsupervised in a motor vehicle under certain scenarios.

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California Vehicle Code Section 15620 states:

(a) A parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child who is 6 years of age or younger may not leave that child inside a motor vehicle without being subject to the supervision of a person who is 12 years of age or older, under either of the following circumstances:

(1) Where there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child’s health or safety.

(2) When the vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition, or both.

A violation of this section is a fine of $100.  Of course, if the child becomes injured, or if medical services are needed, the prosecutor will charge you with a different violation (California Penal Code section 273a), known as child endangerment, which can be punishable by 6 years in state prison.  

Many proponents of child safety have criticized the law for being unnecessarily vague and incomplete.  What constitutes a “significant risk”?  It doesn’t say.  In fact, if you carefully review the statute, it keeps opening a whole host of scenarios in which you can keep your child in the car unattended.  Like many new laws, it will be some years for case law to develop to provide us with some more clearer answers.

In the meantime, here is a list of best practices to keep you and your children safe:

  • don’t leave your child unattended in a car, even if it’s for “just a minute” or even if they are sleeping;
  • don’t leave your keys unattended in the presence of young children;
  • always lock your car, even at home;
  • teach your children the importance of being safe inside a vehicle

If you have any questions about Kaitlyn’s Law, or need representation, do not hesitate to contact our attorneys.

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