Is It Ever OK to Leave Your Kid in the Car?

Would you do it?Would you do it?This is a hot topic in my house right now. I'm not talking about forgetting kids in cars during hot summer days and the unspeakable tragedies that occur. I'm talking about running into Dunkin' Donuts or the dry cleaners and leaving your little ones for just a minute or two. My husband, Nick, thinks this is totally unacceptable under any circumstances. Even though I never do it, I wonder if maybe there's a gray area…

Yesterday I was at a gas station and a dad pulled up in his Audi wagon. He left it running with his 2-ish-year-old kid in the backseat while he ducked into the mini mart. He was still in there when I pulled out, which was at least two minutes later. He was parked in front of the mini mart (not in a spot) but he definitely could not see the kid from where he was in the store. I gotta say, I was a little shocked to see this and, to me, it falls in the unacceptable column. Someone could have jumped in the car and driven away.

But I get it. I have a 3- and a 6-year-old and trust me, I want to leave them in the car sometimes. It would be so much easier. My kids can be downright primal in stores sometimes and occasionally a three-minute visit to, say, the deli devolves into whining and sticking hands in the giant pickle barrel and begging for lemonade. But I couldn't leave them in the car without worrying they'd do something destructive or mess around with a toy and choke on it or need me in some other urgent way or…get snatched. I had assumed no one left little kids in cars. To be honest, I thought it was illegal. But lately I've been seeing it more and more (I'm not talking about 10-year-olds, I'm talking about little kids). I actually watched a nanny leave a 3-year-old in the car in our daycare parking lot while she ran back into the daycare to get something she'd left behind. That one bothered me since it wasn't even her kid she was putting in danger. And she was gone for several minutes. (I waited until she got back to make sure the kid was OK.)

I asked some mom friends at the bus stop what they think and two of them said they do it occasionally--but only when they can park close enough to the store that they can still see the car when they're inside. And only at a few local spots where they feel comfortable. That seems reasonable to me, though I still don't know if I'd be able to do it. I just don't trust my kids--or other people--enough. That said, now that I think of it, I have run into our dry cleaners where you can pull right up parallel to the doors, which they keep wide open. I locked the car and opened the windows and could talk to my son the entire time--the counter was literally about eight feet from the car door. But I think that's where I'd draw the line.

Especially after perusing, a nonprofit child safety organization "dedicated to preventing injuries and death to children in or around motor vehicles." They cover everything from heat stroke in cars to kids getting run over to power-window incidents. Yikes. And it turns out 19 states in the U.S. have laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. (Is yours one of them?) "It's never OK to leave a kid in a car unattended while you run into the store," says Amber Rollins, director and volunteer manager for "Heat is only one reason--thousands of children have been seriously injured or killed by power windows or they can knock a vehicle into gear and then they either fall out or jump out because they're scared and they get run over. And we hear of cars getting stolen with kids in them all the time." I asked Amber what she thought about leaving kids in the car in your own driveway for just a second while you run back inside (I admit to doing this sometimes though I strap them first and never leave the keys in there) and she said absolutely not. "It doesn't matter where the car is parked, it's never OK," she says. "Everyone thinks it's not going to happen to them, that it's a freak accident. But when you look at the statistics about all the different things that could go wrong it's just not a risk you want to take with your kids." Bummer!

So I guess that answers my question. And I guess I have to make some changes. Though I'm not a nervous overly-protective mom (and I don't plan on becoming one) I don't want to do anything stupid that could put my kids--who, again, are a little on the wild side--in danger. But I'm still curious about what other parents do because I know this happens and I get it. Do you ever leave your little kids in the car unattended? In public? What about your own driveway? Do you feel like it's a black and white issue or is there gray area? Will you rethink that now? Would love to hear your thoughts on this!