Should you ever leave a young child unattended in a car?

A New Hampshire mother was recently arrested after leaving her 2-year old son in the car with the motor running. Dina Dambaeva, 34, of Manchester, New Hampshire, said she just ran into a Target to return something and that her child was never in any danger.

Dambaeva stated in a local news story, “He was safe, he was fine, he was happy.” And while she is facing one count of endangering the welfare of a child, she also doesn’t think she did anything wrong. She defended her actions by explaining that in her home country, Russia, leaving your child in the car is no big deal.

But the police said something awful could have occurred in those 30 minutes. “Anytime you have a child of that age, alone and unattended, there is a ton of risks that can happen to them,” said Police Sargent Matthew Burke.

"I thought it was going to take five minutes, I didn't know it was going to take more," Dambaeva said. "I'm not the worst mother in the world, I just did one tiny mistake, and people judge me for that."       

In this case, it’s easy to judge. Even after being taken into police custody, Dambaeva seemed oblivious to the dangers of the situation. As area shoppers commented, someone could have broken in and abducted the child, or he could have gotten out of his car seat and decided to play driver.

And while it’s easy to condemn Dambaeva’s actions, how many of us have done something similar? Certainly not for 30 minutes, but for a quick run into Wawa to grab a cup of coffee or to drop something off at a friends’ house. The difference between right and wrong can get a little fuzzy in these situations.

What does the law tell us? Only 19 states have laws specifically against leaving children unattended in a car. It’s against the law in Pennsylvania, it isn’t in New Jersey or Delaware.

Pennsylvania law states:

  • A person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle may not permit a child under 6 years of age to remain unattended in the vehicle when the motor vehicle is out of the person's sight and under circumstances which endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child.
  • This law applies to the highways and trafficways of the Commonwealth and includes parking lots.
  • A person who violates this section commits a summary offense. It is a separate offense for each child left unattended.

Whether it’s the law in your state or not, these guidelines make good sense for the safety of your child and your peace of mind.


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