Ever wonder exactly what the punishment would be if your child was caught without a helmet? Or what would happen if a mom was caught leaving the house while her toddler napped? Which brings up: when can you legally leave a child home alone or in the car as you dash into the store real quick? And what are the consequences for breaking these laws? Breezy Mama turned to lawyer Stacey Honowitz to find out the laws — and punishments — on the above examples, spanking, teen curfews and more.
What age can children be left home alone?
Parents always want to know when they will “get in trouble” with the law for various actions that they take with their children. One of the most interesting laws that we as prosecutors have to deal with is “what is considered to be neglect” when it comes to leaving kids alone, etc. Every state has their own laws about when it is legal to leave your child alone. In many states (such as Florida and I believe California) there is no “set” age. You as a parent must be able to judge whether or not your child can handle the task of being alone; You could have a physical or mentally challenged child who is 15 and cannot handle it because of their limitations,versus a twelve year old who has the ability to stay home, knows the emergency numbers if needed and knows how to exit the home if it becomes unsafe. Bottom line, you have to be the decision maker, and know your child’s abilities. And maturity level.
Let’s say a toddler was napping and a mom got tempted to dash to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk, would she be arrested for leaving her toddler home alone or what are the consequences for leaving a child home alone who is not mature?
The idea of leaving a toddler home sleeping while “dashing” to the store will never hold water if it gets to a prosecutor’s desk. Here is why: while you are gone certain things could happen in the house beyond your control. If the child awakes and nobody is there you never know what kind of danger that child could place themselves in. Now, if your child is sleeping and you step out front to walk the dog (literally front lawn for 5 minutes) that behavior is a lot different than you going to the store. What if something happens to you, and you can’t get home even though you thought it would be quick? Prosecutors could potentially file charges and depending on the jurisdiction it could be a misdemeanor or felony. Don’t be tempted, you could be in trouble.
Similarly, it’s always tempting to roll down the windows in the car and run real quick to say, pick up the dry cleaning with the kids left waiting in the car. What age is this legal?
Again, as you will see in most of these questions, every state has their own laws about leaving a child in the car while running an errand. I know where I live you cannot leave a child under the age of six (6) in an unattended vehicle in excess of fifteen minutes, or for any period of time if the motor vehicle is running or the health of the child is in danger. You could be guilty of either a misdemeanor or traffic infraction. Parents now could probably find their state laws on the computer. When in doubt, be smart, just take your child with you. Lots of things can happen when you leave any child alone.
What is the consequences for a parent if the police were to find a child or children under the legal age left alone in the parked car?
Here is the typical scenario. A person in the parking lot makes a call to the police that there is a child alone in a parked vehicle. The police come out, and interview the witness to find out how long they saw the child alone and to give any other pertinent information. The child will then be asked questions, and the police will wait there until the parent comes out. They will note the time they arrived, how long the child was watched by the witness and then how long it took for the parent to come out. Then the police can make the decision to arrest the parent based on several factors, i.e. age of the child, time away from the car, and condition the child was found in.
All children are now required to wear a safety helmet when riding a bicycle, correct? What is the consequence to a parent if a child is caught without a helmet by the cops?
Here is the the website to go to for all your answers on the helmet laws: www.BHSI.org. It is the bicycle helmet safety institute, and they mention each jurisdiction and what the laws are. Every jurisdiction differs, but usually a violation results in a traffic infraction ticket.
Breezy Mama has previously covered that a child must be 13 years old before they can ride in the front seat of a car. Is this punishable by ticket? How much is the fine?
Any violation of a seat belt law, or moving violation law, such as children riding in the front seat prior to the right age will result in a traffic ticket, which will vary in amounts. Sometimes if you are pulled over for another infraction and the the police see the child in the front seat, you will receive a warning as they are aware that not all parents are familiar with the law.
We Breezy Mamas have learned that spanking is all sorts of wrong. But if a parent does spank, is it punishable by law?
Spanking is such a controversial issue. In the prosecutor’s office we are constantly faced with the issue of what is deemed appropriate under the law because some parents do choose to discipline in that fashion. When faced with photographs of bruises, welts, loop marks, scarring and basically any other injury, we deem it to be child abuse. Child abuse is of course punishable by law in every state, but again each jurisdiction dictates what they believe is appropriate corporal punishment. Most states now require that there be “evidence” of a spanking in order to prosecute, and the excuse of I was just disciplining my child won’t fly. Best bet, don’t touch, find another way to discipline.
Are car seats required to ride in a taxi?
Most taxis do not require a car seat. Think of all the people standing on the streets of New York getting in and out all day. A hired or registered car usually has an exemption in most states. If you decide though to call a car service ahead of time you can ask if they provide car seats and most of them with notice will provide one. Again, try to figure out the safest way to travel with a child.
Are there laws that apply for home school?
When your child is being home schooled, it is up to you to contact the school board where you live for all of the guidelines and restrictions. The local board will be able to address all of your questions and let you know what is proper when home schooling your child.
What is the youngest age for a babysitter, say if your oldest is 12 can she watch your younger kids alone?
One day you just need to ask yourselves whether this child is responsible enough to watch other children. It is not that hard to determine if the child shows a responsible side, and the ability to care not only for themselves but for others. Again, you will never hear a set age, and you won’t be prosecuted for leaving that twelve year old with younger kids if they can act with a level of maturity and know what to do in case of an emergency. Now I am not saying that they need to now how to perform surgery, but they must know contact numbers, police and fire rescue numbers and of course how to reach you. I would not suggest leaving an infant though with anyone other than an adult. Their can be circumstances with them that only an adult would be able to handle.
Is there an actual curfew for teens during school nights?
Local curfews are all the rage these days. If you are unsure if you have one, contact your local police department for the information. Better to know ahead of time rather than spending the day in court because you have violated it. Punishments could range from community service to a fine.
When does your child not need a car seat legally?
Every state has what are called “Child Restraint Requirements” and they can usually be found in the the traffic laws. Where I live, if the child is 5 years or younger there are specific rules and regulations. All children must be protected by a crash tested, federally approved child restraint device. Translation.. car seat, either a separate one or one that is a vehicle manufactured integrated child seat. At some point the law will allow the seat belt to be used, usually ages 4-5.
What about riding in the back of a pickup truck? When there’s a shell? And what if there’s not a shell?
A pickup truck with or without a shell is considered a motor vehicle and must adhere to the same rules, so if the child is not restrained you are looking at not only a traffic infraction, but putting your child at risk.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Bottom line to all these questions is use your common sense. That means, restrain your child in a car, don’t use corporal punishment, use good judgment in who you leave your child with, and never leave them in the car alone. You should not be worried about your own liability, you should worry about your child’s safety.
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Stacey Honowitz is a twenty-two year veteran of the State Attorney’s Office, seventeen years dedicated to the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit where she is currently serving as a supervisor. She is also a frequent legal commentator who has provided legal analysis for Larry King Live, CNN Headline News, Good Morning America, Dateline NBC, CBS News 48 Hours, MSNBC, CNBC, as well as Fox News and Court Television. She has prosecuted several high profile cases in south Florida and is also a guest lecturer who speaks about child sex abuse, the sensitive nature of these cases, the navigation of the criminal justice system and the importance of frank and open communication with children about this important and difficult subject matter. She has provided important information for several years to both parents and children on the issues of child molestation and continues to send the message that the importance of reporting the abuse is the first step in healing. To contact Stacey, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To purchase her book, My Privates are Private, click here.
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