If you see a child alone in a car, try to find the parents or contact local authorities. Supervision by adults is the best way to keep children safe in most situations, and a locked car is no exception. Children who are left alone in a car are at risk for several dangers, including heatstroke.
Recent news reports about parents being prosecuted and losing custody of children after leaving them in cars has discouraged some people from getting involved if they see a child alone in a car. While no one wants to unnecessarily cause pain and disruption to a family unit, the safety of children must always be the top concern. To that end, if you observe a child alone in a car and are unable to easily locate the parent or guardian, you should contact the police.
Kids Left Alone in Cars Are at High Risk for Injury
Calling the police is not an overreaction, especially when you consider that thirty-nine children died of heatstroke after being left in cars in 2016.1 Heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles are completely preventable, which is why contacting emergency personnel is vital if you see a child or baby left alone in a car and can’t find their parent or guardian.
In addition to heatstroke danger, children in cars are also vulnerable to injury—especially if they can move around the car. Children could potentially put a car out of gear, which poses a threat to them and to any people or property nearby. Many adults feel it is reasonable to leave children in a car if it’s only for a few minutes while they run into a store or shop to conduct an errand, but the risks simply aren’t worth it.
Never Ignore a Child Left Alone in a Car
When considering whether to contact the authorities, take into account the age of the child or children that have been left unattended in a vehicle. If they are old enough to speak with you, ask them how long they’ve been in the car, and where their parent or guardian went. In these cases, you can try to find the parent or guardian before contacting the police, as this can be a less traumatic resolution for all involved. However, under no circumstances should you completely ignore a child left alone inside a car.
Both adults and children spend a lot of time in cars, which is why it’s important to make sure you practice proper car safety. Check out our resource guide for more safety suggestions, including dash cam recommendations and a car seat buyers guide.
- Jan Null, CCM, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, San Jose State University, noheatstroke.org, “Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles”