Leaving Children Unattended: A Change in the Florida Regulations


Most people have likely walked past a car with a child or animal inside of the vehicle and wondered whether or not they were safe inside. This issue is made particularly difficult with the Florida heat, it does not take long for an enclosed car to increase in temperature to the point of being dangerous. The temperature can rise rapidly even within a few minutes. Those who are concerned may be happy to know that the government is taking some action on this important topic. All Florida residents should be aware of these upcoming changes.

Action by the Legislature

The Florida legislature is thinking about approving a bill that will make it a crime to leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle, even if it is only for a short while. Currently, the Florida regulations say that a child can be left alone in the vehicle for around 15 minutes. This regulation applies to everyone under the age of six (6) years. The regulations that are being debated are going to change this to make it a crime if a parent leaves their young child alone in a car for any length of time. This means even if a parent leaves their child alone for only a minute, they could be charged with a crime.

The Penalties

With this change, what happens if a parent is found guilty of leaving their child alone? The charge would be a second degree misdemeanor. This means that police officers would have the right to remove the child if they are left unattended for a few minutes but, if officers are unable to find the parents, they could turn the child over to the Department of Children and Families. Through this mechanism, parents could quickly lose their child if they leave them unattended in a vehicle, even for a minute. This could be a very traumatizing event for the child.

One of the reasons the penalty for leaving a child in a car for any period of time is a result of the number of times a child has unfortunately passed away due to over heating in a car. It is clearly the state’s public policy to prevent any further child deaths from over-heating in a car. Those devastating and preventable situations sometimes happen because parents may forget their child is even in the car. If a parent’s routine is different on a particular day, the parent may not realize or remember their child is left in the car. This has unfortunately occurred on more than one occasion. That is why the change in regulations leaves no room for a child to be in a car unattended. It may be difficult to know if the child has been in the car for just a couple of minutes or for a significantly longer period of time.

Important Thoughts

Parents should always think twice about leaving their child unattended in a motor vehicle. On a warm day, the car's temperature could rise by twenty degrees within just a few minutes. This could make children unsafe in a car within a short time frame. It is not uncommon for a parent to consider leaving a child in a car for just a couple of minutes while they run and errand. In an emergency or urgent situation, parents may not feel like they have much of a choice but to leave their child in a car. However, these new regulations make it clear that parents must find an alternative to leaving their child in a car unattended. Parents with questions about this new regulation should be sure to speak with an experienced legal professional to learn more.

All parents should be sure to place the safety of their children first and think about the temperature of their vehicle and the safety consequences to their children before leaving them alone. There could be serious consequences to both the child and the parent.

Article updated September 22, 2020.

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