Safety organization warns of potential dangers of leaving children alone in car (even for a short time)

Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 7:13 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - With the summer heat upon us, most people are aware of the dangers of leaving a small child alone in a hot car. But with car thefts also increasing, there is another risk: an unintended child abduction.

“All it takes is five seconds for someone to slip into your vehicle and drive off,” said Cris Swaters, Springfield Police Department’s Public Affairs Officer.

“They are crimes of opportunity,” added Amber Rollins, the Director of Kids and Care Safety, a national non-profit organization that promotes awareness of the potential dangers of children left alone in cars. “Car thieves are sitting, waiting, and watching for somebody to walk away from their car, leave their car running or leave their keys inside. An overwhelming majority of these car thefts with children still inside the car happen at convenience stores, but a lot of them also happen in home driveways.”

Most of these cases end with no physical harm to the child, but it does take a tremendous mental toll on everyone.

“The trauma and the fear of being taken are rough on the child and parents as well,” Rollins pointed out. “And its effects are lifelong.”

Unfortunately, not all of them do turn out well.

“There was a case in Independence, Missouri, where a mother ran into Subway to grab a soda and left her son in the car,” Rollins recalled. “When she turned around to come back out, somebody was jumping in the driver’s seat of her vehicle. She ran out and was able to get the back door open, but when she went to grab her son, he became entangled in his car seat straps. She also became tangled up, and the guy took off. They were both dragged along for quite a while. Her son ended up dying, and she was critically injured. There was another case in Wichita where a 13-year-old girl was sitting in the backseat of the family SUV when the rest of her family went to a restaurant to grab take-out. A man jumped in and stole the vehicle. She panicked and tried to get out, got entangled in her seatbelt, and was also dragged to death.”

According to Swaters, Springfield hasn’t had any recent cases of cars stolen with children inside, but there have been 97 cases nationwide so far this year.

“Last year, we documented almost 300 cases,” Rollins said, marking an increase of 100 from 2019.

“I’m a parent, so I get it,” Swaters said. “There are some things where you want to be super-quick, run-in and run-back. But that’s a risk that you can mitigate.”

The Kids and Car Safety non-profit organization offers a list of safety tips starting with a simple edict: Never leave your child in the car alone.


Because even if your car is not stolen, there are other potential dangers.

“Thousands of children have been strangled to death or seriously injured by power windows,” Rollins explained. “Hundreds of children are injured or killed every year after knocking a car into gear. Children can find objects in the car and choke. They can get strangled in their seatbelts. They can get out of the car and get run over because other drivers don’t see them. The list just goes on and on.”

Here are some tips listed on the Kids and Car Safety website:

1. Never leave a child of any age or pet alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute.

2. Use drive-thrus or curbside pickup so you don’t have to leave your vehicle.

3. If a business doesn’t offer curbside delivery, call upon arrival and ask them to bring your order to your car. Most people are more than happy to accommodate you when you tell them you have small children. It takes a village!

4. Keep car doors locked and keys on your person when pumping gas with children inside the vehicle.

Currently, 21 states have laws that make it illegal to leave a child unattended inside a vehicle. The Kids and Car Safety organization is hoping to expand that number. Missouri is one of the states where the law applies only if there is physical harm involved.

“Missouri’s law leaves a lot to be desired,” Rollins said. “It only takes effect if the child is seriously injured or killed. We want to be more proactive than that. We don’t want to be reactive. We believe these laws are really important even though we aren’t wanting to punish parents. But when a state doesn’t have a law, and this type of thing occurs, police only have the option of doing nothing or jumping to a more extreme charges like child endangerment, abuse or neglect. That does happen. We don’t families to be separated or have children taken away. We want parents to learn because in these car theft cases, I don’t think parents truly understood the risk before they did it. So these laws also give us a platform to educate people, and they need to know because it happens more often than they think.”

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