States pursue legislation to protect children left in vehicles

| 5/15/2007

The Florida Legislature has approved a bill that is intended to discourage adults from leaving small children unattended in motor vehicles. Similar efforts have been offered in Missouri and Oklahoma.

Sponsored by Sen. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, the Florida bill would make leaving a child alone in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes a criminal offense. The restriction also would apply to children left in RVs and the beds of pickup trucks.

Offenders would face up to 60 days in jail and $500 fines. If the child died or suffered great bodily harm, violators would face up to five years in prison and $5,000 fines.

Supporters say the bill would bring attention to the dangers of leaving children alone in vehicles. Opponents say it should be a matter of personal responsibility, not state law.

The bill – S2 – has been forwarded to Gov. Charlie Crist’s desk.

A bill in the Missouri House includes a provision that also would create the crime of leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle.

A violation of the protection would be committed when a child 10 years old or younger is left unattended in a motor vehicle and the child’s health or safety is at risk, the engine is running, or the keys are anywhere in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Violators would face up to 15 days in jail and/or $50 fines.

Missouri law already makes it a crime to leave a child 10 years old or younger unattended in a motor vehicle if the child injures or kills another person by causing a motor vehicle collision or by causing the motor vehicle to injure or kill a pedestrian.

The bill is SB239.

A similar effort has been tripped up in the Oklahoma statehouse. Sponsored by Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, the “Forget-Me-Not Vehicle Safety Act” remained in the House at the deadline to advance from the chamber, effectively killing it for the year. The Senate previously approved it by unanimous consent.

The bill – SB551 – would have made it illegal to leave children six years of age or younger alone in vehicles. The only exception would have been if another person in the vehicle is at least 12 years old.

Violators would have faced fines of at least $50. Repeat offenders would have been fined at least $100 and required to complete at least 50 hours of community service. Subsequent offenses would have resulted in at least $200 fines and an evaluation by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

The protections also would have applied to vulnerable adults left unattended in vehicles.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor