Is it ever OK to leave kids alone in the car?

Lately, there has been a rash of women arrested for leaving their kids in their cars while they go shopping.

The AJC reports: A mother of 4-month-old twins was arrested on charges of child cruelty on Saturday night after another shopper heard the babies’ cries through the cracked windows at about 10 p.m..

“Firefighters forced their way into Janesia Williams’ Toyota Scion and rescued the babies, according to a Clayton County Police report. Paramedics were checking out the children when Williams walked out of the Ellenwood store.”

“Paramedics said the babies were in good health, but still transported them to Southern Regional Medical Center for observation.”

“Williams told police she was only in the store for five minutes, according to a police report. However, Darlene Marshall, who was parked next to Scion, told police the twins were unattended for at least 20 minutes.”

Earlier this month, the AJC reported “a woman left two children, ages 1 and 3, alone in an unlocked car while she went into a Marietta Wal-Mart and shoplifted items for herself, according to Cobb arrest warrants.”

“Lashaundra Chantee Cooper, 23, was arrested at 12:30 a.m. Saturday when an officer located her vehicle with the two children inside.”

“The 1-year-old was screaming and walking on the front seat, according to the warrant. The keys were in the ignition. There was one car seat in the vehicle, but neither child was in it, according to the warrant.”

“Cooper, of Marietta, faces a felony child cruelty charge, according to a warrant. Additionally, she faces a shoplifting charge for allegedly concealing $24.75 worth of merchandise in her handbag and exiting the store.”

I think it seems pretty clear that it’s not OK to leave your kids in a car to go into Wal-Mart or a big store of the like, but is it always so clear cut?

Is it OK to leave your kids in the car to:

Go inside the Starbucks to get a coffee if you can see your car and the kids through a glass window?

Drop a video in the drop box – do you have to be parked directly in front of the box?

Park in front of the vet’s office and standing in the doorway hand-off your dog or pay a bill? Do you have to keep one leg or half your body out of the door?

Leave them parked in the car to run to the ATM?

Or to run into your elementary school to check out a child if parked in front of the school?

Is it ever OK to leave your kids in the car for any length of time? If so what are the standards?

63 comments Add your comment


June 23rd, 2009
6:40 am

I have a 3 year old son and two infant twins…a few times I have thought about leaving the 3 yr old in the car to put a letter in a mail box or something quick, but I could never bring myself to do it, I think its the height of irresponsibility to do that. The heat is one reason, but the reality of the world we live in is another. If the child is too young to be left at home then they certainly shouldn’t be sitting in a car while mom or dad goes shopping….

You did this topic last year...

June 23rd, 2009
6:41 am

…so all the answers are still the same.


June 23rd, 2009
6:42 am

Starbucks — go to one of them that has a drive through.

Video drop box — If you are at the fire lane drop box your good to run the video to the drop.

Vet office – you ad the kids take Fido in.

Elementary school — I have done this twice — both when we were on the way to ER and moving the child was more dangerous to child or school than leaving her. I parked right in front of the glass door. Call ahead, run in sign the kid out, then go back to the car — seriously less than 5 min and the school got my other child and walked her to the car.

Leaving the kid in a car while you are at Walmart is a NO.

Park in the neighbors drive full view of the car (and in this heat with the windows DOWN) and run something to the neighbors front door…you should be ok just don’t do the chit chat thing.

Have them (finally) all buckled in start to leave the house, realize the coffee pot is on…ok to run back. (Seriously, I cannot be the only this happens to occasionally can I?)

Live at an apartment and are dropping off the trash to the dumpster. Ok to park the car next to dumpster and toss the bags.

This is all for ‘young’ children like the ones in the news stories. It also assumes you have enough sense to take the key with you. Better question when is the ‘child’ old enough to sit in the car while you run into (there are so many drive throughs now I am having a hard time coming up with something) someplace and for how long? 10, 12, 17, 22 (granted this last is an adult)….5 min, 15 min? Is it different with older male children than female?

ATM — again use a drive through one. Drive through ones are safer from potential theft anyway.


June 23rd, 2009
6:48 am

If you have to leave the kids in the car, lock them in the trunk, so they won’t bother other people. Nobody wants to see your brats begging for a drink. Sheeesh!


June 23rd, 2009
6:56 am

Great topic. When my kids were babies, up until about 2 I think, I’d bring them everywhere. Now they’re a little older, 6 and 4, and I will leave them to drop a video in the outside slot to use Theresa’s example. I have also parked in the spot right outside the vet’s door to pick up my cats. It was 70 degrees and I was right at the door watching, plus it is a very quiet location. There was no way I could handle 2 terrified cats and 2 kids without someone being in danger.

Other than that, I make the effort to drag my kids into stores or use the post office drive-through, or do errands when they’re not with me. Starbucks and schools are too busy to leave them in the car waiting. Too many opportunities for a wacko to do something or for them to get into trouble or something else.

I don’t know, I think it’s a judgement call. I remember my parents would occasionally leave us in the car at the grocery store as we got older. We were responsible and would never put the car in gear or anything stupid like that, the weather was fine, and there were enough people around where the random lunatic wasn’t a problem. But as my kids get older, it’s less of a pain to have them buckle and unbuckle themselves and have them come with me and get some exercise, so I doubt I’ll do that. We’ll see…


June 23rd, 2009
7:11 am

I’ve raised two kids and now have a grandchild I’m taking good care of and I have never and will never leave them in the car. I guess my habits are different from some younger people because I’ve never had to even make that decision. I could always leave them home with Daddy or now with Granddaddy if I don’t think I could manage with one in tow. Let’s not take living for granted.

va. lady

June 23rd, 2009
7:28 am

In my opinion, it is never acceptable to leave a child in the car. Having had two sons that are nearly grown, I can admit that there were times when I wanted to leave the kids in the car for a quick run into 7-Eleven to pick up milk. Back in my day, we did not have the baby seats that converted from a safety seat to a carrier. Instead, we had to switch the infant from the safety seat to a carrier. When my first son was an infant, I had to make the quick run into the convenience store. I made the time-consuming switch for a 90-second trip into the store. While I was in the store, a policeman pulled in next to my vehicle. If I had left my son in the car, I am certain that I would have been arrested.

By the way, I fired a daycare provider because she pulled the “I was only in my friend’s house for a minute” trick and left my sons in her car. My oldest son was five-years old at the time and informed me of the situation.

While we are on this topic, what about the parents who leave the kids at the local library so that Mommy can get a mani/pedi at the local nail salon?

My oldest son works as a lifeguard at a mega-gym that has an outdoor pool. He has reported that parents think nothing of leaving their pre-school children at the outdoor pool so that said parents can work out in the gym. Yes, the gym does have a daycare room. My son and the other lifeguards have to be extra vigilant because most of the little ones do not swim.


June 23rd, 2009
7:34 am

it is totally a judgment call. Dropping off a movie in the drop slot or a library book in the drop slot..sure no problem. Going shopping at Walmart, no way that is just crazy. I travel quite a bit with my two young ones and I have often wanted to just run in to a gas station to grab a drink but even that could take too long.
I do have to put one child in the car and come back inside to get the second one. I’d break all 3 of us trying to wrangle everything at once.


June 23rd, 2009
7:46 am

I’ve had this conversation with a good friend. He thinks nothing of leaving his children in the car to go into QT to get coffee. It really bothers me. I don’t think anyone should leave their children in the car alone for any length of time. It might be a pain, but it’s better than hurting or losing your child.


June 23rd, 2009
7:52 am

When you begin to think of just how many things could go wrong in less than a minute when you leave kids in a car alone, I’d have to say no, never leave them alone. All it would take is for one person to notice your kids in a car alone and before you know it, you’re answering questions to the police and DFACS. You may have to go out of your way a bit but it’s best to be safe and leave them at home or have an adult in the car with them if you have an errand to run.


June 23rd, 2009
7:53 am

…so far all of the responses are the same as they were last year.


June 23rd, 2009
7:54 am

I don’t think it is okay in most circumstances you highlighted. We live in a different era and unfortunately, it is just not safe to leave kids in the car unattended.

@FCM: I still struggle with leaving the kids in the car (mine are 13 & 8). I do think it is okay to leave them to drop off a video. I just don’t do it here in metro Atlanta. Aside from the heat, I worry about people that look for a car to steal. I don’t think males are more safe than females. There are just as many people that hurt male children that hurt female children. Now, if your child is training to be a body builder, then that puts a different spin on things!

In my humble opinion, it just isn’t a good thing to do. You really can plan errands around times that won’t cause you to have to take the kids with you. Return things on the way to work, or sign up for Netflix. Go to the Starbucks drive thru. I just think with the abundance of modern conveniences, one really can circumvent the need to leave the kids in the car unattended.


June 23rd, 2009
7:54 am

Are you telling me that none of you people were left in the car when you were children? Come on! Mind your own business.


June 23rd, 2009
7:55 am

Shaggy, LOL!

I definitely believe that there are certain conditions under which you can leave your kids in the car. I have 4 children ages 5, 10 14 & 15 and alot of times if I’m running in to the grocery store or Wal-mart really quick, one or all them may not want to come. I have conditions under which I do this though. The 14 & 15 y.o can stay in the car by themselves and if the younger ones want to stay with them, then I let them; however if say the 10 y.o. wants to stay and everyone wants to come, then he has to come too. I never left any of them alone in the car as infants, not even to run into the convenience to get milk although I could see them through the window. Now as they got older, say 5 or 6, I’d leave them to go into the convenience store or into the gas station to pay for gas, but only if I could see them through the store window. If I couldn’t see them, then they’d have to come inside with me.


June 23rd, 2009
8:00 am

An alternative to “trunk storage” is to leave the little buggers armed with a 9mm or maybe just a 22cal for the two year olds. I have found that the two year olds are pretty good at leading their targets, with the smaller caliber, less recoil armaments. Plus, squirting them down with a hose before you leave, will help with our notorious summer temperatures.


June 23rd, 2009
8:02 am

I guess there are some instances where children under the age of 5 or 6 can be left in the car while you do a quick (2minutes or less) drop off or pick up, but only when you can see the children. Personally, when my children were young, leaving them in the car for any reason, for any length of time, was not an option. That was back in the 80’s but now, it’s interesting to see how people are doing crazy things with and to their children these days. It’s like children are no longer a priority. Children are a HUGE sacrifice and you will be inconvenienced a lot so you have to engineer your life tasks around them so you never put them in harm’s way and if that means you have to be inconvenienced for a minute, then so be it. Be patient…Wait…Chill out


June 23rd, 2009
8:04 am

I left my kid in the car as I ran into a convenience store. The car was locked, and I could see her through the windows. Sometimes I would leave the car running so the air would be on. I never worried about carjackings, as we always lived in safe areas (Not too many car jackings in Suwanee). I did this several times, and she was ok. NEVER did I leave her in the heat though. And I never left her under the age of 4. She was out of a car seat when I did this.


June 23rd, 2009
8:06 am

When my oldest turned 11 I began leaving the kids in the car for short errands – doors locked, car running if weather dictated, and a cell phone in the oldest’s hand. Until that time, I always took them in. I would leave them in my own drive while I ran back into the house a few years earlier than that.
I have also called the police to a parent who left kids in the car. I was shopping at a store in a VERY congested shopping center -several department stores, a movie theater, etc. As I was leaving a small boy, about 2, approached the cashier and said he could not find his mother. She began paging. When I reached my car there was a truck nearby with three small children in it alone. One was just over a year, the others were about 3 and 5. I went back into the store and the cashier had discovered that the boy had walked from the parking lot to find his mother. He had been in the truck with the other kids and had been sent to find her. I called the police and continued to watch the police from a distance. When the police arrived, I gave my statement and left. In all, I watched the kids sit alone in the truck for 25 minutes with no sign of the mom. I don’t know what happened. I was never contacted by the police again. However, these kids were in great danger: one of them could have easily have fallen out of the truck (they were hanging out the windows), and the little boy could have been run over in the parking lot.
If it is too much trouble to take your kids in, don’t go or find someone to keep them.


June 23rd, 2009
8:13 am

most of the answers are good.


June 23rd, 2009
8:38 am

I personally have never left them in the car anywhere except to run back into the house..I have twin grandkids that will be seven next week and anytime that I got out to go in, they were with me..Have you ever tried carrying one on each hip and a diaper bag?

Would I ever leave them in the car to go to Walmart..Heck NO..There is nothing in any store that is worth leaving your kids in the car for..

Jesse's Girl

June 23rd, 2009
9:02 am

My oldest is nealry 13 and I am JUST NOW comfy with leaving the younger two with her in the car while I run in to get the dry cleaning, grab some milk…whatever. Its laziness and neglect to leave your babies in a car. Period.


June 23rd, 2009
9:16 am

When we were kids, we got left in the car ALL the time! We still laugh about it to this day! It was different era, but it was still HOT! We talked about how we would not wipe our sweat off so mom could see just how hot we all were! 5 kids stuck together in a station wagon (she took the baby in)!! YUCK!

I RARELY leave my sone alone in the vehicle. If he is sitting at the curb while I drop off library books, I still take the keys and lock the truck! Every once in a great while, I will run into a convenience store to get something from the counter (not the back of the store)…If I can’t see from there, I don’t go in…also, if there is a line, I don’t go in without him! I worked hard to get this guy into the world, I don’t want anything to happen to him!

The teenagers, they can stay outside if they want! They are 17 and 18!

Dumb question

June 23rd, 2009
9:55 am

Of course it’s never O.K. to leave your child(ren) in the car. Anything could happen in your absence. That was a dumb question to ask. It takes less than a split of a second for tragedy to strike! A person should NEVER leave a child or pet inside a car unattended.


June 23rd, 2009
9:59 am

One question that I have about the woman who was arrested – If the children were released to the custody of thier father after her arrest -why didn’t she just leave the kids with their father when she went to Walmart at 10:00 at night. Too many parents drag thier kids to stores, resturants at all hours of the night.


June 23rd, 2009
10:00 am

Someone is feeling comfortable to leave their 13 year old in the car…. Well intentioned, over protective parents constantly afraid someone is going to steal my child…. as they live in suburbia. Everyone of you means well, most are logical but some of you are just bonkers and overprotective.


June 23rd, 2009
10:27 am

People need to relax. Yes you can get out of the car for 30 seconds and return a movie or go get coffee. You aren’t that special, no one cares about your ugly kid. Yeah you shouldn’t leave kids in a hot car or go shopping, but seriously…


June 23rd, 2009
10:31 am

My son is almost 7, and I’ve only left him to return a video or a library book to the outside drop slot. Just become familiar with where all the drive-thru locations are and the problem is solved!


June 23rd, 2009
10:36 am

Come on!!! You wouldn’t leave a 13 and 8 year old in the car to run in and grab a soda or coffee or drop off dry cleaning? Give me a break! Of course I wouldn’t do that with infants or small children, but if one was a teenager….of couse I would. Give me a break!

Ms. Writer

June 23rd, 2009
10:36 am

Glad I dont have kids…


June 23rd, 2009
10:42 am

You really shouldn’t even do it in your own driveway when you are running into grab something.

A couple of years ago, my neighbor put his kids in the car, then went back in the house to get something. Then the phone rang and he was in the house for approximately 5 minutes. I was in my front yard working and witnessed all of this. The kids, three boys, were about 8,6, and a toddler. The two older boys got bored and started horsing around in the car. One of them knocked the gear shift into neutral. The car came flying down the driveway, jumped the street, and ran through a brickwall at my next door neighbors.

Luckily, no one was behind the car. No one was in the house. And all three boys in the car were safe, but scared. It could have been much, much, worse.

So, be careful.


June 23rd, 2009
10:46 am

I have a 6 1/2 year old boy and the most I’ve ever done is pull the car to the fire lane in front of the library, lock the doors and run (yes, literally run) up to the drop slot to return books. He’s never out of my sight. Maybe I’m paranoid, but with everything you hear these days you can’t be too careful. If you have older kids, I’m sure the rules can be relaxed for grabbing a coffee inside a Starbucks or something. But the idiots who would leave a helpless infant or toddler in a parked car, windows up in the summer, should have their parental rights taken away.


June 23rd, 2009
10:47 am

I don’t think it’s ever okay to do. May seem harmless at times but anything can happen in just a few minutes.


June 23rd, 2009
10:48 am

I meant to say it’s never okay if they are an infant or a toddler, if they are older, it depends on the situation and the kid(s)


June 23rd, 2009
10:57 am

when they were even in car seats, I never had problem with dropping off a movie or book at the library if I could park right at the drop-box. Now my kids are teenagers and I’ll let them stay in the car if they want. They have cell phones and if they get hot, they know how to leave the car, lock it, and come find me in the store. How are you going to teach your children to be responsible if you don’t give them opportunities to be responsible?


June 23rd, 2009
10:58 am

some of you people are completely INSANE! do you take your kids out of the car when u pump gas? cause that takes a HECK of a lot longer than using an ATM or dropping a movie (& is clearly more dangerous than leaving them in)! I’ve certainly NEVER done BVR (beyond visual range) or gone inside a building even when I could see/was close (ex. convenience store even w/car 20 ft from register/door) but a car isn’t going to go from 70 to 90 in anything near 60 seconds & there’s more risk in having the kids out of the car in ANY parking lot for anything that can be done in under two minutes but then I had these classes called “math” & “physics” in college…


June 23rd, 2009
11:12 am

sd, if I ever went back in the house for something, I NEVER answered the phone if it rang..I have heard to meany horror stories about people doing that..Heck, they are almost 7 and I still won’t talk on the phone while they are in the tub..To easy to get sidetracked…Guess I’m just old school…Nothing is as important as my 2 grandkids..


June 23rd, 2009
11:32 am

Interesting points here.

For me, it depends on who is with me and what I need to do. If all three (16, 9 and 3) are in the car, I will leave them depending on the task (returing something in Target, one or two item purchase at the grocery store, etc). If the 9 and 3 year old are with me, I only leave them if they are in eyesight. I start the car remotely so they can watch a movie and have the air or heat on. I also leave the cell phone with the 9 year old. If it is just the 3 y.o. with me, I take him out the car. If I have an errand that I don’t want to take him out, then I don’t run the errand.


June 23rd, 2009
11:38 am

Let’s be honest for just one moment. These folks who’ve been arrested should never have been allowed to have children. In fact, as Obama continues to expand the role of government, I’ve heard from Washington insiders that he’s going to propose a plan to “control” who can have kids, how many, what sex they’ll be (through reproductive organ transplants if necessary), etc. So, ultimately, Barrack will take care of this.


June 23rd, 2009
11:40 am

It’s is basically NEVER ok, unless you are like 5 feet from your, still outside, and only gone for 5 seconds. My son is almost 6, and I would never leave him in the car to run in to the video store, or in to the vet, etc. The only time he has ever been in the car by himself was when I was putting a shopping cart in the buggie return (and only if I parked right next to it), if I am even two cars away from it, he walks there with me and back to the car with me. He always gets out of the car with me no matter how quick the trip will be. It’s not just the heat I’d be worried about, but it only takes a few seconds for some crazy person to snatch your kid. With my little boy, I always tell him, if he isn’t close enough to mommy for me to reach out and grab him, then he isn’t close enough.

Pro-Lifer (Usually)

June 23rd, 2009
11:41 am

I wish Jon & Kate would their kids in the car…. in Arizona.

I wish Mike Vick’s mother and illegitimate father had left him in a car…. as it rolled off a pier into the Atlantic Ocean.

Pro-Lifer (Usually)

June 23rd, 2009
11:42 am

CORRECTION: I wish Jon & Kate would LEAVE their kids in the car…. in Arizona.

I wish Jon would leave Kate….. in the middle of the desert.

Mmmmm…… Des-sert…… mmmmm…..


June 23rd, 2009
11:44 am

Most of you make it sound like it’s a chore or a pain to “drag” your kids into stores, rather than leave them in the car where anything can happen to them. You and you alone are responsible for your childrens’ wellbeing, and if you think it’s such a hassle to protect them, maybe parenthood wasn’t the best choice for you.


June 23rd, 2009
11:48 am

If she was gone long enough for a) someone to notice the kids, b) be concerned enough to look around and decide to call 911, and c) for the firefighters to get there and d) for the firefighters to have time to force the door open, then hey, she wasn’t gone for “five minutes” — she was gone too long.

When the children were small and had to be carried around, I never left the kids in the car unless I was in eye contact with the car at all time — i.e., the ATM machine or dropping stuff off at the drycleaners that has a private drive and porte couche. You wouldn’t leave a dog alone in a car in this weather, much less a child. Once they got old enough to walk, I NEVER left them in the car, because they were escape artists from their seat belts (my daughter regularly escaped from a correctly fastened 5-point harness), and I never trusted them alone in the car (gear shifts, etc.)

A dad

June 23rd, 2009
11:48 am

All you need to see is one infant who died from heat strke while left unattended in a car while the parent “just ran inside for a minute” and you’re answer will be consistently “no.” But you need to draw a distinction between the example of pulling up in front of a movie store and running maybe 15 feet to drop a movie off in the slot, or parking at a bank and walking about 15′ to use the ATM, and so on. Instances where you are not really leaving your child out of your sight or, more importantly, out of quick, and I mean quick, reach. Leaving you infants and small children completely unattended, out of sight, out of reach, etc. is completely unexcusable.


June 23rd, 2009
11:52 am

I say that while it is basically a judgement call, it really isn’t worth the risk to leave a young infant or child alone in the car. One time, I realized I had left my jacket in my mother’s house and when I saw that my 3 year old niece was asleep in the car seat, I didn’t want to wake her and figured she would be fine with the car being in the driveway and the weather being moderately cool. So I ran in really quick to grab my jacket. Imagine how horrifyingly guilty I felt when I saw coming back to the car after only a 5 second absence that she had woken up and was crying fearfully at having been left alone; it took me a while to calm her down and reassure her. I will never do that again and it raised a very good point for me. It is just too much of a risk and it only takes seconds for something to go horribly wrong: child climbs into the driver’s seat and shifts the care into drive, someone snatches the child, etc. However, again it is a judgement call and depends on the overall situation and the age of the child. Pumping gas would be one such rare situation where I can see reason to leave the child in the car since you would be right there next to the car and as long as you had the keys out of the ignition and the window rolled somewhat down if it was hot.


June 23rd, 2009
11:57 am

You all are all self-righteous liars. We’ve all have left kids in the car. I never left infants in the car I was way too paranoid for that, but I leave my 7 & 9 year old boys in the car all time if I am just running in to get something and run back out. I always take the keys and tell them not to talk to strangers. You’ve all done it.


June 23rd, 2009
12:13 pm

I’m guilty. I’ve left my 6 mo. old son in the car while I picked up mail from my PO Box. I should point out that it only took 45 sec and I could physically see my vehicle the entire time. By the way, he’s 5 now and no permanent damage was done.

As a parent, it’s all about using sound judgement. You can leave your child in the car for a minute, but not if the car and child are out of sight.


June 23rd, 2009
12:16 pm

T, no I have never left them in the car to go into a store. As I said, I have only left them in the car in my driveway..There is nothing in a store that is worth them being taken for..So, don’t be so harsh by calling everyone liars..You say that you leave a 7 & 9 year old in the car, to me that is a big no no…So please come down off of your high horse..

Jesse's Girl

June 23rd, 2009
12:23 pm

My brother is a cop…he says that legally a parent..or whomever is driving the car…can be arrested for leaving a child younger than 12 in a car alone. So I asked him if I would be arrested for leaving the 10 and 6 year old with her to run in to grab my dry cleaning:) He laughed and said there are so many more worthy things I could get arrested for….


June 23rd, 2009
12:46 pm

I have a 16 month old son and would never leave him in the car for anything, not even to run into a store for a minute. If he was 13, though that might be a different story as long as he knew the rules and I was close by. The woman who left her twins to go into walmart is a prime example of someone who should have never been able to procreate in the first place. I know people trying to have kids that can’t and want them more than anything in the world, and this idiot is leaving her kids in the car to go shopping??? unreal.