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Is it illegal to leave a child in the car?

Leaving a kid in the car or trying to break them out could cause you more trouble than you think.

If you live in a state like Louisiana, Maryland or Nebraska, it’s illegal to leave your child unattended in a car for even a minute. But safety laws involving vehicles and kids vary widely in the rest of the country.

There’s no federal law covering when and how long it’s OK to leave your kids in the car without you, although some states have enforced laws regarding leaving your children in the car.

Compare child laws across 21 states

Only 21 US states have passed laws that specifically address kids in unattended vehicles, with another 26 states enforcing less specific “hot car” laws. Some states allow for a grace period of five minutes, and most only apply to children under six years old. A few states allow for a provision if you have a child older than 12-14 who can supervise a younger child.

StateHot car lawChild ageLimit (minutes)DetailsGood Samaritan law
AlabamaYes0-8No limitNot allowed unless the vehicle has an ambient interior temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit or lessYes
AlaskaNoNo
ArizonaNoNo
ArkansasNoNo
CaliforniaYes0-6No limitNot allowed unless supervised by someone 12+ years oldNo
ColoradoNoNo
ConnecticutYes0-11No limitNot allowed if it endangers the childNo
DelawareNoNo
FloridaYes0-50 (car is off or child is in danger)
15 (car is on)
Not allowed if the car is on or the child is in dangerNo
GeorgiaNoNo
HawaiiYes0-85.0Not allowed for +5 minutesNo
IdahoNoNo
IllinoisYes0-510.0Not allowed for +10 minutes unless supervised by someone 14+ years oldNo
IndianaNoNo
IowaNoNo
KansasNoNo
KentuckyYes0-7No limitAllowed but it’s felony manslaughter if the child diesNo
LouisianaYes0-510.0Not allowed for +10 minutesNo
MaineNoNo
MarylandYes0-70.0Not allowed in a locked car unless supervised by someone 13+ years oldNo
MassachusettsNoNo
MichiganYesAny0.0Not allowed if it endangers the childNo
MinnesotaNoNo
MississippiNoNo
MissouriYesAnyNo limitAllowed but you’re liable for any damages or injuriesNo
MontanaNoNo
NebraskaYes0-60Not allowedNo
NevadaYes0-70Not allowed if car is on or there’s a significant riskNo
New HampshireNoNo
New JerseyNoNo
New MexicoNoNo
New YorkNoNo
North CarolinaNoNo
North DakotaNoNo
OhioNoNo
OklahomaYes0-60Not allowed if car is on or there’s a significant riskNo
OregonNoNo
PennsylvaniaYes0-50Not allowed if it endangers the childNo
Rhode IslandYes0-110Not allowed if it endangers the childNo
South CarolinaNoNo
South DakotaNoNo
TennesseeYesAny0Not allowed if car is onNo
TexasYes0-65Not allowed for +5 minutesNo
UtahYes0-80Allowed unless the child suffers heat stroke, hypothermia or dehydrationNo
VermontNoNo
VirginiaNoNo
WashingtonYes0-150Not allowed if car is on or if driver is at a bar or tavernNo
West VirginiaNoNo
WisconsinYes0Only applies to child care providersNo
WyomingNoNo

States with no hot car laws

Not every state has a law on the books about whether it’s illegal to leave children in the car. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t faced criminal charges for leaving a child in the car.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Even if your state doesn’t have a specific law outlining how long a kid can be left alone in a locked car, a court may apply general abuse and neglect laws. Cases in Arkansas and Georgia, states with no hot car laws, have convicted parents of negligent homicide due to accidental hot car deaths.

How many children die in hot cars every year?

An average of 38 children die each year in hot cars, according to noheatstroke.org. And the state with the most deaths? Texas, which isn’t surprising considering its record high summer temperatures over 113 degrees.

Car deaths by state

StatePediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH) deaths
Alabama28
Alaska0
Arizona42
Arkansas18
California54
Colorado7
Connecticut5
Delaware2
District of Columbia1
Florida96
Georgia35
Hawaii5
Idaho7
Illinois16
Indiana15
Iowa7
Kansas12
Kentucky23
Louisiana32
Maine2
Maryland14
Massachusetts4
Michigan10
Minnesota7
Mississippi20
Missouri26
Montana3
Nebraska3
Nevada14
New Hampshire0
New Jersey14
New Mexico11
New York10
North Carolina32
North Dakota1
Ohio20
Oklahoma29
Oregon4
Pennsylvania11
Rhode Island1
South Carolina19
South Dakota3
Tennessee30
Texas132
Utah11
Vermont0
Virginia28
Washington5
West Virginia5
Wisconsin8
Wyoming1

Which month has the most deaths?

Most of those deaths occur in July, which has the highest temperatures of any month. August is a close second, especially in states where August temps rival or beat July highs. That’s why it’s most important to make sure kids aren’t left alone in cars during the summer months.

Hot car child deaths per month

MonthAverage yearly number of PVH deaths over the last 20 years (2001-2020)
Jan0.1
Feb0.3
Mar0.9
Apr1.7
May3.9
Jun7.9
Jul8.7
Aug8.6
Sep4.6
Oct1.7
Nov0.5
Dec0.2

How hot can a car get in the summer?

On a summer day, a car can heat up 20 degrees in 10 minutes. That means your car can go from 70 to 90 degrees in the time it takes to run into the pharmacy, and a car on a 95 degree day can heat up to 115.

Time ElapsedCar temperature over time on a 70° dayCar temperature over time on a 90° day
0 min7090
10 min89109
20 min99119
30 min104124
40 min108128
50 min111131
60 min113133

Good Samaritan laws protect rescuers in 23 states

Good Samaritan laws are designed to encourage people to help their fellow citizens without worrying about the legal consequences of their actions.

In these 23 states, Good Samaritan laws protect you and other bystanders from the damage and liability that result from rescuing someone in distress — like a child in a hot car.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

6 tips for keeping kids safe in the car

During hot weather, keeping cool is the name of the game. Use these tips to check on your kids during sunny car rides to make sure they’re safe.

  • Know the law. Many states don’t allow children to be in cars unsupervised, even for a few minutes during a trip to the grocery store.
  • Watch the weather. Heat stroke can happen when you’re exposed to higher heat than you’re used to for a long period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Look for high temperatures, high humidity and weather advisories when making plans for fun in the sun.
  • Check the backseat. Make sure everyone’s out of the car after a drive in the car.
  • Have your babysitter check in. After someone else has driven your kid, ask them to text you to let you know everyone’s home safe.
  • Know the signs of heatstroke. Symptoms include nausea, confusion, headaches, muscle cramps, red skin, rapid pulse and fainting.
  • Cool down. It’s a good idea to bring water for a drive and have everyone go inside at stops. If a child shows signs of heatstroke, call medical help immediately, move them to a air-conditioned room or cooler spot and apply cool, wet cloths, according to the CDC.

New tech doubles down on kids’ safety in cars

New car technology is constantly improving. Nissan has released a feature called Rear Door Alert in several popular car models. When you turn on this feature, the car detects when you’ve opened a rear door to get in the car. Drivers will see a dashboard alert if the rear door isn’t reopened upon arrival.

Your child’s car seat also could remind you about the precious cargo in the backseat. Evenflow and Cybex car seats offer SensorSafe chest clips that attach to the car’s seatbelts. If the clip’s still attached when you turn your car off, an alert will sound. This sensor pairs with an app, so you can check your car’s backseat from anywhere.

A pet in car with the head outsideLaws for pets in cars vs. kids in cars

Only a few states make it illegal to leave a pet in a hot car. And if you live in a state where it is illegal, the punishment for leaving your pet in the car is usually minor.

For example, in Alabama, a child at or under age 8 can’t stay in the car if the car’s temperature is 99 degrees or higher. But Alabama doesn’t have official laws about keeping your pet in the car. Keep in mind that laws vary by state, and some like New Jersey keep higher penalties for leaving pets in cars.

Bottom line

You may live in a state that isn’t firm about leaving children in cars while you shop or run errands. But no matter what state you’re in, child abuse or neglect laws could come into play, and a little convenience while picking up milk or dry cleaning may not be worth risking a child’s health or potential legal action.

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