The in basket: Joanne of Poulsbo describes a recent incident in
North Kitsap involving a child left in a car one hot morning and
wonders if an excuse offered by the woman driver of the car has any
basis in fact.
She said a man was trying to help her get her own pickup truck
started at the convenience store where Highway 104 meets Bond Road
when the woman raced into the parking lot, parked and went
Shortly afterward, a man drove in and parked next to the woman’s
car. He approached Joanne and her helper and said there was a small
child left in the woman’s car.
Before they got far in locating the driver, the woman came out
and reacted angrily to the groups’ concern. She told them that in
Washington state, there is a 10-minute grace period during which a
child under 5 years can be left in a car.
Joanne said she has since asked around, but no one she has asked
knew of any such law or rule.
The out basket: Not surprisingly, there isn’t one, says Deputy
Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is no law at all addressing the
leaving of children in a car that is not left running.
“The actual statute concerning this is RCW 46.61.685,” Scott
said, “leaving a child under 16 years of age in a vehicle with
motor running. It’s not a violation that would result in the
issuance of a ticket, but rather a misdemeanor offense. Since it is
a misdemeanor, the responsible operator of the vehicle would be
summoned to appear in court.
The law reads, “(1) It is unlawful for any person, while
operating or in charge of a vehicle, to park or willfully allow
such vehicle to stand upon a public highway or in a public place
with its motor running, leaving a minor child or children under the
age of sixteen years unattended in the vehicle.
“(2) Any person violating this section is guilty of a
misdemeanor. Upon a second or subsequent conviction for a violation
of this section, the department shall revoke the operator’s license
of such person.”
Scott continued, “If a child is left alone in a vehicle (engine
running or not) and the child’s health becomes compromised, for
whatever reason, that would most likely be investigated as possibly
criminal mistreatment or manslaughter (if it resulted in the
child’s death). These are felony-level crimes.
“In the state of Washington there’s no such a thing as a
‘Ten-minute grace period ‘ It’s yet another urban myth,” he
He also noted a news release his department put out July 16 to
prevent harm to children left in hot cars.
It said never leave a child alone in a car and make it a habit
to look in the back seat whenever you leave your car. “Look before
you lock,” it advocated.
For bystanders such as Joanne, it advises:
– Check to make sure the child is OK and responsive. If not,
call 9-1-1 immediately.
– If the child appears OK, you should attempt to locate the
parents, or have the facility’s security or management page the
vehicle’s owner over the PA system.
– If there is someone with you, one person should actively
search for the parent or caregiver while a second person waits at
– If the child is not responsive and appears in great distress,
attempt to get into the car to assist the child, even if that means
breaking a window.