Car Seat Baby Sitter

February 12th, 2013 posted by Lori Marques

When is it okay to leave your kids in the car when running errands? When you’re just running in the store for a jug of milk? Picking another child up at preschool? When they’ve fallen asleep and they haven’t napped yet? These are some of the questions my girlfriend and I asked as we sat outside a local coffee house on a sunny Spring morning. During our visit, three people parked and went inside to get their morning dose of caffeine, all while children waited, strapped in car seats, in the warm sun. We commented to each other, how warm the cars must be getting while each parent was inside for approximately 10 minutes. Should we say something? Isn’t that illegal? What to Watch For “Sometimes air conditioning alone is not enough. Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean your little guy is.” Among the symptoms of heat sickness are lethargy, sleepiness, glassy eyes and skin that is very warm to the touch. Among the most hazardous spots for children during the summer heat wave is the automobile, he said. Summer sun and children left in or playing around cars can be a deadly mix, according to the Clark County Safe Kids Coalition. Never leave a child inside a car during the summer heat, even for a few minutes. Recent tragedies involving kids in cars proved that cracking the window to let air in does nothing to protect kids from hyperthermia. Unlocked cars also pose serious risks to children, who are naturally curious and often lack fear.


In June 1998, a 7-month-old boy died when the parents drove the child around in a van without air conditioning. The vehicle had only one working window, which was open just a crack. Later that night, the adults realized the child was sick. In June 1996, a 3-month-old girl died after her mother forgot she was in the back of a car for more than half a day. Resource: LV Review Journal

Recent news headlines talk of children dying after suffering from heat exhaustion, mothers being arrested for leaving children in the car while running into a store for a quick errand and a report from the ABC news show 20/20 are evidence that there is risk to leaving young children unattended in vehicles. It made me wonder, under what circumstances do parents and caregivers leave children in the car? Has this always been an unacceptable practice or is it a growing trend due to overworked parents and tight schedules? I found these questions are not easily answered. Most parents I’ve talked to have admitted to doing it. The circumstances vary, a quick trip to the ATM, picking up dry-cleaning, collecting another child from school or daycare. Unfortunately, this is not where the list ends; too often a quick run into the store turns into 10, 20, 30 or more minutes. “The interior of a vehicle can heat up to 120°-130° in less than an hour. Even vehicles parked in the shade in warm weather can pass 100° in just a matter of minutes,” says Tim Maybee, Division Chief of Medical Services for the Sacramento County Fire Protection District. According to Maybee, the time it takes heat exposure to affect the health of a child depends on many factors, age, when he last ate or drank, if he’s on any medication, if he is “healthy” or suffering from a cold or other illness. The affects of heat exposure can be devastating and include dehydration, seizures, heat stroke, burning and sloughing off of skin, even death. Maybee recalls a call he went on where a toddler had been left in the car for an unknown period, her skin was so badly burned that it sloughed off into the paramedics gloves as they were removing her from the vehicle. The severity of that incident caused the fire department to call in professional trauma counselors to help the rescuers work through their grief over the death of that child. Some caregivers believe they are relieving the situation by leaving the car running with the air conditioning on. Maybee points out that their is potential for carbon monoxide poisoning to occur, especially in older vehicles. So, there must be a law against this you may be thinking. According to ABC’s 20/20 report, a national law does not exist, and although the states vary on their laws, very few have a specific law against leaving children unattended in a car. In the state of California, there are two laws governing this situation. Sergeant Bud Crosthwait, Traffic Supervisor of the Concord Police Department says Penal Code 237a, subsection a, makes it a felony for “any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer…shall be punished by imprisonment…”; this falls to a misdemeanor charge when “…conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death…” occurs. Vehicle code 22516 states that “No person shall leave standing a locked vehicle in which there is any person who cannot readily escape therefrom.” The problem with the vehicle code law is it only applies to public roadways and government owned property. So the local grocery store parking lot does not apply. Regardless of what the law says, common sense reigns. Don’t leave your kids in the car to run into the store for “just a minute.” Rolling up the windows and locking the doors to “protect” your children could put their health in serious danger. Remember, if your child rides in a car seat, they are not going to be able to free themselves and open the door if it gets too hot in the car (or too cold, any extreme is dangerous). According to Maybee, if you have given any thought to the weather that day, even in the morning when considering what to dress your kids in, then it’s either too hot (or too cold) to leave them in the car even for a moment. Use common sense when going to the ATM, or picking up another child. Are you still in control of the car? Can you see it? Then, ask yourself — is this nap or the one minute I’m going to save by not having to remove her from the car seat worth risking her life for?


about the author Lori Marques and Lisa Carter are moms and authors of Paranoid Sisters’ Child Safety Made Easy (Screamin’ Mimi Publications, $6.95). They reside in the San Francisco-Bay Area and have six children between them. Learn more safety tips (including swimming pool safety) by visiting their web site at www.paranoidsisters.com .



Lori Marques (3 Posts)


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