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Yes, You Can Leave Your Kids in the Car for a Few Minutes
Children dying in hot cars: Terrible.
Passersby calling the cops every time they see a kid waiting in a car: Also very bad.
Why? Why shouldn't we all be screaming at the moms and dads who leave their kids in the car while they pick up a pizza or drop off the dry cleaning? After all, that's what the advice-givers are saying to do. "Help us tell more people never to leave their children alone in a car -- even for a minute," begs one website.
Why isn't that a good idea?
Because it fails to take into account the fact that most kids are very safe if left in the car for a short time (certainly a minute!). It's only our "every child is in danger of the worst possible fate, every single second" culture that has us thinking they're not.
Each year, as many of us learned from this heart-wrenching article by Gene Weingarten, 15 to 25 children die from overheating in the car. This year the numbers have been a bit higher. Usually what happens is that a distracted parent forgets that their child is even in the car, and leaves for a long time. Sounds impossible, but obviously it does sometimes happen, to the parent's eternal regret. (By the way, the best advice I heard on this whole topic is to put your bag or briefcase in the back, so you have to look in the back seat -- and notice your kid -- to get it.)
The thing is: Leaving a child all day is quite different from running a quick errand and running out again, which really is safe. Children are not getting snatched out of cars, the way we see on "Law & Order." And most parents are leaving the windows cracked and their errands short. And yet, I keep hearing from parents assailed as child abusers for deciding that they can leave their kids in the car for a few minutes.
Take this mom, whose 4-year-old son wanted to wait in the car while she dropped off his sister at school: "I got back to the car and a woman I'd never met was screaming at me from down the street."
The next day a state trooper showed up at the mom's house. He told her she was just lucky nothing bad happened.
But that's not luck. Not in a country with more than 40,000,000 kids age 10 and under, many of them in cars every day. Forty million kids x 5 car rides a week = 10,400,000,000 rides, compared with 40 cases of hypothermia. Any death of a child is tragic -- horrible! But the odds were were overwhelmingly in her favor. On top of that she used her own judgment -- knowing her kid and her community -- to decide what she thought was safe. That is not negligence.
Let's stop obsessively second-guessing it.
Related: 'I See You Have a Family Decal on Your Car. Now I Will Kidnap Your Kids!'
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