Can You Leave Your Child in Your Car in Virginia?
You stop in front of a store. You have no intentions of staying; you just have to pick something up. Because you are in a hurry, you decide to leave your young kids in the car. You run in, pick that something up, and then leave. It all takes two minutes.
Did you just do something illegal?
Let’s change the story a bit. Let’s say it still takes two minutes, but that the kids are screaming in the vehicle the entire time because they want you to stay. Does that make it illegal?
Let’s change another detail. Let’s say instead of two minutes, it took five. Does that make it illegal? Is there a length of time that would make it illegal?
The first paragraph just said “young kids.” Is there an age that would make it illegal?
The Answer to All the Questions (Sort of):
The short answer to all of these questions is no. There is no specific law in Virginia that prohibits leaving children unattended in a vehicle. Back in 2007, a bill was introduced to the General Assembly that would make it illegal for children under six years of age to be left alone in a vehicle, but it never made it out of committee.
That does not mean you are entirely in the clear. There are still plenty of laws that police have at their disposal with which to charge you. If your actions can be interpreted as abuse or neglect, for instance, you could still find yourself in some trouble.
As a lawyer, I have seen many parents in these situations charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Extremely broad statutes that prevent leaving children “delinquent, in need of services, in need of supervision…” give prosecutors the ability to pursue charges. Extremely broad definitions of neglected children include “abandoning” them or leaving them without parental care during an “unreasonable absence.” Even worse, depending on the case, the police may even be able to swear out of warrant for felony child endangerment.
If you are a parent, you already know that citizens interpret these statutes and definitions differently. That’s why some people feel the need to approach you about how delinquent of a parent they think you are being if you run into a store for “one second” while leaving your kids in the car, even if you can see the car the entire time. Safety is obviously very important. What you deem to be safe may not match others’ definition of safe.
The Safest Way Forward:
Do not interpret this post as saying that you can leave your kids unattended in your vehicle now any time you want. As mentioned, just because the law does not speak to this specific situation does not mean you cannot be charged if you do it. Conversely, you should educate yourself on exactly what the law states.
Any parent will tell you that knowledge of the laws in this area is important. Parents run errands and visit public places. There is daily application to the type of scenario described at the start of this post. It is better to be safe than sorry, as the old saying goes, and it is good to know what the law does, or does not, state.
If you find yourself facing charges of child neglect or anything similar, please call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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