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Is it legal to leave your kids in the car?

Can you get in trouble with the law when leaving a child in a car? Recombu Cars investigates the legal implications.

Leaving your child in a car alone while you run a quick errand can be tempting but is it actually acceptable? We decided to investigate to help keep parents on the right side of the law.

What’s the official legal stance?

You can leave a child in a car on their own regardless of age, but it depends on the risk. To quote the official government stance:

“The law doesn’t say an age you can leave a child on their own, but it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. Use your judgment on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them alone, eg at home or in a car.”

So leaving a child in a car is legal?

Technically yes, but the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says it’s a big no no and the police are likely to take a similarly strong stance, even if you’re gone for just a couple of minutes. Leaving a child alone without being able to see them could be classed as abandonment.

The charity advises: “Children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time, children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight and that babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.”

Is it morally wrong?

Some would say yes, always. Some would argue otherwise. It’s an issue that’s likely to spark strong debate. We would say it depends on the situation.

If, say, you step out of a vehicle to refuel a car and pay at a petrol station, which allows you to keep your eyes on the child or children inside, it’s probably acceptable. But on a sunny day for a long period? That’s not only stupid, it’s highly dangerous.

Ultimately the struggles of parenting may mean it’s a necessary evil, so use common sense. There is a small chance a car thief could randomly steal your car the moment you go off to grab some milk (it has happened), but then you could be run over the moment you get out. Nothing is risk free.

Could I lose my kids if I was caught leaving them alone in a car?

Without exact timing limits for specific ages of children in UK law, it depends. A mother and father nearly had their two-year-old daughter taken into care for leaving her in the car for ten minutes unattended while popping into a pharmacy. A year-long legal battle ensued.

Meanwhile a number cases have seen parents forget about their children in the car in hot weather, resulting in their death. It is estimated there are between 15 and 25 cases of this every year in the US. Putting your child at risk is never going to look good in the eyes of the law.

So what’s the verdict?

If you can see your child while you are outside of the vehicle, it’s may be okay. But police who catch you are likely to be unimpressed – and you could be given a caution at the very least.

Think about it: A child could easily mess with the handbrake, open a door and get out, eat something they shouldn’t. Maybe you find yourself unable to get back to the car as quickly as you thought. What if a bystander walks past your car and decides to call the police?

It’s a touchy subject and one that is best served by the age-old adage: Better safe than sorry. Although easier said than done, try to avoid situations where you need to put you and the fruit of your loins at risk in the first place.

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