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Is it OK to Leave Your Kids in the Car?

What is the right age to leave a child alone in a car, and for how long?

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents, caregivers and other members of the community are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting topics. This week’s Moms Talk relates to leaving kids alone in the car.

  • Your two-year-old just fell off to sleep in the car seat and you just need to run into the school to pick up your other child. It won’t take more than five minutes, tops.
  • All you need is to grab a gallon of milk from the mini-mart. It will take longer to get the boys to unbuckle and put their coats on than it will for you to get in and out and get the job done. You can even see the car from the cash register.

No matter what the reason, every parent has contemplated leaving a child in the car for “a couple of minutes” while he or she dashes somewhere to do a quick something. And, many of us have even done it on occasion, making the child promise not to move or touch anything in the interim. Still others of us have been scolded by (or scolded) another parent for leaving a little one unattended in an automobile.

Believe it or not, 19 states, including Pennsylvania, have laws against leaving children alone in cars. In PA, the law states that children under six cannot be left alone in a motor vehicle “out of the person's sight and under circumstances which endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child.” Some state laws suggest a time frame of no more 5 minutes for leaving the child alone in the car – the PA law does not include a timeframe. A summary offense under the PA motor vehicle code, the infraction is punishable by fine.

Which brings us to this week’s Moms Talk question:

What is the right age to leave a child alone in the car and for how long? Is this a parental decision or something the government should regulate?

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey of Upper Milford Township is a stay-at-home mother of two. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and longtime member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew of Emmaus is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17 years of experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston of Emmaus has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, NJ in January.
  • Lisa Merk of Lower Macungie is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 14-year-old and 8-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paul of Bethlehem is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5-year-old and a 14-month-old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus works part time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children -- a boy who is 3 and a 6-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing.

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Jennifer Elston November 25, 2012 at 03:58 PM
I don't think it's right to leave kids in a car in public...not even for a couple of minutes. I'd rather go back to the store another time or carry the sleeping child inside than risk it.
Lisa Amey November 25, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Now that my kids are older, they sometimes ask me, "Can I stay in the car while you go in to ____ (some public place)?" And I always think of some excuse why they can't....it's too scary for me to think about it.
Lisa Merk November 27, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Nope. Go back another time, ask someone to get whatever you need, ask husband to pick it up on his way home from work...anything but leave your kids in the car. Don't do it.
tamarya November 27, 2012 at 02:38 AM
I really wish they could, however not worth getting myself arrested, because they are unattended, for a 2 minute trip into the store to pay for gas. And my kids are 8 and 9 so they can walk into the store and behave. And if they don't, deal with punishment when we get home or out to the car.

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