Leaving Your Child in the Car: What Does the Law Say?

Leaving Your Child in the Car: What Does the Law Say?

by Hannah Mann

Car Safety and the Law

For many parents, their worst nightmare is losing a child through their own oversight. Probably the second worst nightmare is the legal aftermath. After a hot car incident, the caregivers involved can reasonably expect to have their every word and action scrutinized in court: accident, neglect, manslaughter, or murder?

Consider the heartbreaking story of Miles Harrison, a consulting company manager who forgot his adopted son in a hot car and was subsequently prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter. Although he was cleared of all charges, the experience seems to have been nearly as traumatic as losing his only child. And he’s not alone; a Google search for “hot car death” invariably pulls up words like “man charged with…” “mother testifies in court…” “parent cleared of charges…”

What the law says

At least 19 states have laws prohibiting the practice of leaving your child in the car, with New York and Rhode Island currently considering their own legislation against it as of early 2016.

Moreover, all states carry laws against neglect, with varying definitions on what constitutes neglect. According to Childwelfare.gov, “Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.” [bold ours to highlight the potential for varying interpretation.]

Do they help? What does this mean for me?

Despite their creators’ good intentions, these laws don’t necessarily strike at the heart of the problem since the data on hot car deaths attribute only 17% of incidents to intentionally leaving the child in a car. The vast majority are due to forgetfulness (54%) or an unattended child playing and thus becoming trapped in a vehicle (29%).

What they do accomplish, however, is a more punitive outcome for caregivers. In these states, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, at minimum, for leaving a child in the car– whether it was intentional or not; even if it really was momentary forgetfulness; even if the child suffered no harm whatsoever. Considering that a reasonably-sized city can potentially hit dozens to even hundreds of near-misses in one summer, this should give you pause.

So where does the iRemind fit in all of this?

Currently, despite a plethora of safety alarms in modern vehicles, there’s no push for automakers to install alarms that indicate if a child is left in the car after the car is turned off. So, parents’ options are left to aftermarket devices like the iRemind.

While the iRemind Alarm (and other devices) is no substitute for supervision, we understand that things happen and people make mistakes. Unlike the legal system, we strive for prevention, not punishment.

Thus, the iRemind is designed to be an extra layer of security that not only safeguards your children’s lives, but also cushions the legal ramifications from a potentially deadly– yet usually innocent– oversight.

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