Can You Leave Kids in the Car Alone: Staying Safe

Three young kids in the car backseat

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The laws about leaving kids unsupervised are unique in every state. Many people wonder about the legal age to leave kids in the car or at home. When it comes to leaving your child unsupervised at home,  you have the authority and the freedom to decide if your child is ready to fly solo. But leaving your kids in the car is another story.

What to Know About Leaving Kids Alone

There is No Specific Age for Leaving Kids Unsupervised in Texas

In Texas, there is no magic age where you can leave your child at home. It’s up to you. But just because you have the authority to decide, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. In some circumstances, parents can face consequences up to and including criminal charges. Rather than focus on age, parents are encouraged to exercise discretion to keep their children safe.

House Bill 567 – The New Law

Recently, Texas passed a new law regarding when the state can and cannot intervene in home-alone situations. The new law places greater emphasis on childhood independence. It also makes distinctions between a child being “in danger” and a child facing the “possibility of danger.”

In Texas, it is up to you—not a neighbor, bystander, or family member, to decide when your child can go unsupervised. The 2021 law, HB567, declares that the State cannot remove a child from their home unless the danger is so great that it exceeds the trauma of being separated from their family.

In short, you cannot have your children taken away simply because you left them home alone. But can you leave kids in the car? First, it’s important to talk about neglect and abandonment.

What Does Texas Law Say About Child Neglect?

Parents Are Responsible for Child Safety

Texas law requires parents to provide the following for their minor children: adequate medical care, food, supervision, clothing, and shelter. Any instance where a parent fails to meet these requirements might qualify as child neglect. Child neglect is when a minor child is exposed to risk of physical or mental harm.

Although child neglect is a civil offense in Texas, it can still include criminal charges. When an accusation of child neglect is raised, an investigation by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) may occur. Children can be removed if DFPS uncovers evidence of abuse or neglect.

Parents Decide When a Child is Ready

When it comes to leaving your child home alone, the appropriate age is up to you. But DFPS suggests considering the following:

  • Your child’s ability to respond to an emergency, such as a fire
  • Whether there are adults nearby who can respond to your child
  • Obvious safety hazards in and around your home
  • Your child’s maturity level 
  • Whether your child has exhibited the ability to care for themselves
  • Your child’s mental health, physical health, and age

Can You Leave Kids in the Car?

Most Kids Should be Accompanied

Maybe you’ve heard of the phenomenon that is forgotten baby syndrome. Or perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself. Whether you leave kids in the car by accident or intentionally, this is another situation that calls for parental discretion. 

It is illegal to leave your young child alone in a car for more than five minutes in Texas. When waiting in the car, children under seven should be accompanied by a person 14+. Violation of this law can result in a fine. Leaving young children alone in the car is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas.

Cars Can be Hazardous for Unsupervised Children

Considering the Texas heat, it’s easy to see why there are laws telling us not to leave kids in the car. If your child is older, it’s still important to take their mental health, physical health, and maturity into consideration.

Parents have the freedom to decide if and when their children are supervised at home. In the car, the rules are different. Especially in Texas, it’s important to remember just how dangerous a parked auto can be for a child:

  • A child’s body heats up 3-5 times faster than an adult’s body
  • The temperature inside your car can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes
  • Temperatures inside a locked car can reach 170 degrees Farenheit

According to child health statistics, more than half of pediatric fatal heatstroke cases occur when a child is left in the car by accident. Some people find it helpful to create reminders that their child is with them in a car. For example, placing a purse or wallet in the back seat next to your child can ensure you don’t leave anything, or anyone, behind.

Is it Child Abandonment if You Leave Kids in the Car?

The definition of abandonment is precise and does not simply mean leaving a child unsupervised. In Texas, abandonment is leaving a child unsupervised in an environment or circumstance where “no reasonable adult” would leave a child. 

Parents commit child abandonment when:

  • A child under 15 is left where they face unreasonable harm
  • The parent places a child under 15 in imminent danger of physical or mental damage, bodily injury, or death

Leaving a child alone is not abandonment. But leaving a child in a dangerous situation or exposing them to imminent danger involves penalties. Child abandonment is a second-degree felony in Texas, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If you leave a child in the car, high temperatures can lead to imminent danger of bodily injury and even be fatal. 

Safety Tips for Leaving a Child Home Alone

Leaving kids home alone has benefits. When children are ready, caring for themselves unsupervised can grow their independence, confidence, and autonomy. Whenever you decide your child is prepared to be home alone, there are plenty of safety tips that can help ease your mind. 

Consider the following for safety and preparedness:

  • Place emergency contact info somewhere they can easily access it
  • Discuss what to do in case of a fire
  • Have a plan for what to do if someone knocks on the door
  • Tell them how to contact a nearby adult who can help, if needed
  • Make sure they know their address, phone number, and full name
  • Have a game plan for what they can watch or read online
  • Have a plan for any possible allergic reactions
  • Enroll your child in a Red Cross Safety Course

Thompson Law Will Guide You Through Your Personal Injury Case

Thompson Law is a full-service personal injury law firm headquartered in Dallas, Texas. If you or your child was injured as a result of someone else’s neglect, our attorneys can help you understand your options and your rights. Call us at (844) 308-8180 today for a free consultation.

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