There’s no ‘grace period’ for leaving a child in a car

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 inside.

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 said.

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 the car.

– 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.

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