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Car KeysLeaving little kids in extremely hot or cold cars for any length of time can be fatal. It’s a bad thing to do to children.

That said, a bill passed by the New York State Senate to protect children from this danger likely goes too far. It makes it a misdemeanor to ever leave a child under the age of 8 alone in a car without someone aged 12 or older inside.

The legislation’s justification section makes it clear this isn’t just about trying to protect kids from extreme heat or cold:

“In addition, there are other dangers created by leaving children unattended in motor vehicles, including an increased risk of abduction and the risk for an unintended motor vehicle accident if the child attempts to operate the vehicle. The dangers created by leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle can be severe.”

How many times are kids kidnapped from cars? How many times do they decide to drive? Is this really such a huge problem? The odds of either thing happening are so small they’re statistically zero.

The press release touting the bill calls children under 8 “helpless.” There’s a big difference between a toddler and a 7-year-old. You’re telling me a 7-year-old can’t open a car door if it gets too hot or cold? The bill also makes it a crime for a parent to leave an 11-year-old and a 7-year-old alone inside of a car. Such a pair is not “helpless.” (I was walking to school and waiting at bus stops without adult supervision throughout elementary school. Children haven’t changed and the crime rate is lower today than it was in 1980s.)

This kind of legislation represents “worst-first” thinking. Let’s come up with 100,000 things that could go wrong to justify putting these kinds of laws in place. You know what else could go wrong? Mom walks little Johnny into the supermarket so she doesn’t break the law and he gets hit by a car in the parking lot. Meanwhile, he would have been safe reading comic books in the back seat. We can play this “what if” game all day long.

I’m not saying it’s okay to leave your kids in a car alone, no matter their age or the circumstances. The question is whether it’s up to the police – and state lawmakers – to judge parenting decisions when children are in no real danger. We need to accept the fact that a child alone in public is not always in danger. The opposite is true.

The bill is now in the hands of the Assembly.

Links of the Day:

– A Rush-Henrietta parent says her child won’t be allowed to play baseball if he refuses to take the state exams for the second day in a row.

– The state says it’s okay for school districts to discipline kids who refuse the tests.

– Good news. Rochester will soon clean up the debris lining the Inner Loop.

– Governor Cuomo remains opposed to medical marijuana.

Cheryl Spengler has been forgotten.

Boston Marathon Bombing Links:

– “That was his son with his legs destroyed, wearing a favorite shirt. That was his son.” Man recognizes his son in grisly photo.

“The girl on the ground is Sydney Corcoran, a 17-year-old Lowell High School senior. Her femoral artery was ruptured.” Victims face a long road to recovery.

– Rochester native and war veteran Matthew Zeller writes, “the tactics of our enemies abroad may finally have followed us home.”

– “I tell people if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. By definition, news is something that almost never happens.” If we let fear rule after the bombings, the bad guys win.

Links of the Day:

– Adults who leave children under 8 years old unsupervised in vehicles could be ticketed or criminally charged under a bill that passed the New York State Senate. The bill says children could die of hyperthermia or be abducted. According to the Queens Chronicle:

The bill applies to any person legally charged with care of a child and states that they cannot be left alone or with anyone under the age of 12, “under conditions which would knowingly or recklessly present a significant risk to the health or safety of the child.”

Those found guilty of an infraction would be fined no more than $50 for the first violation, no more than $100 for a second infraction within 18 months of the first, and no more than $250 for a third, but at that point it would be a misdemeanor and the person would have to appear in court.

Critics say the bill has problems. One is the penalty for endangering kids in cars is less severe than endangering pets. Another is the law is vague and may be an overreach in some cases.

Steve Epps, a retired police officer and resident of St. Albans, had similar concerns, stating that the bill doesn’t differentiate between parents who leave a child in a car for a few minutes while they run into a grocery store to get a quart of milk and drug addicts who leave their vehicle to buy narcotics and completely forget the child was with them.

“It leaves too much room for abuse by the city and leaves it to the cop’s opinion as to what to look for,” Epps said. “It seems like a revenue maker to me.”

Of course, Free Range Kids weighed in on this one:

So even if I think my 7-year-old can wait in the car, reading a comic book, while I go in to buy stamps, someone else with a badge or gavel might consider that treacherous. After all, what if there’s a carjacking? What if the child is snatched? What if the car overheats in ten minutes and somehow my kid can’t figure out how to open the door? Or (to paraphrase some folks interviewed in the Queens Chronicle article): What if the state needs to make money and penalizing my parenting decisions is an easy way to grab it?

Police are already charging parents who leave their kids in cars. The issue of criminalizing parents who don’t follow new societal norms of “never leaving kids alone” is getting national attention in legal circles. The bill hasn’t passed the assembly.

– Helicopter parents forced the cancellation of a Colorado Easter Egg hunt.

– A Rochester security guard won a $3.4 million verdict for getting shot during a Wilson Farms holdup in 2003. In the decade before his shooting, there were more than 100 Wilson Farms robberies in the area.

– Talking on the phone while driving is bad, right? But there’s not a lot of data showing crashes related to cell phone use.

Sitting along 490 is an 1820s malthouse.

A Dansville 6-year-old was left on a bus by himself for less than 10 minutes by a forgetful driver. The incident scared the little boy and made local news headlines.

A quick search of “child left on bus alone” yields dozens and dozens of news stories from all over the world. The most troubling and egregious incidents involve children with special needs. This happens so often, a company came up with an alarm system to prevent kids from being abandoned.

Leaving kids alone on buses is terrible! Drivers who do such a thing should be disciplined and maybe even fired. Every case is different. It’s entirely appropriate for news organizations tasked with holding government accountable to question officials about policies and procedures.

While this can be upsetting and scary for children and parents, virtually none of these incidents resulted in any physical harm. A child getting asphyxiated because of hot temperatures on a yellow school bus is extremely rare.

But in one South Carolina news report, a parent vowed to drive his children to school every day, even though thousands of children a year die in car accidents and almost none die on school buses. At what point are we losing perspective?

I suspect the sheer volume of “kids-abandoned-on-buses” stories has a little bit to do with something that has had a profound impact on our society: the fear of something bad happening to children left alone for any length of time, no matter how small the risk.

Update: A company compiled a list of incidents – ones that make the news. This really does happen a lot.

Links of the Day:

– Monroe County has a new airport director. Mike Giardino is a retired Navy commander who ran a naval air base in Florida. He is a career aviator with Rochester roots. In making the pick, County Executive Maggie Brooks went outside her political circle and got someone with experience, as her critics urged. Giardino says he’s a Republican, but Brooks said no one asked him his affiliation and they had never associated.

The previous two airport directors resigned in disgrace, one for spending tax dollars on cigars and strippers, the other for driving her county car drunk. Both had been county insiders without aviation experience.

– A former Monroe County prosecutor sent me a manifesto on Free Range parents colliding with the criminal justice system. The 60-page research paper by David Pimentel asks whether our culture of overparenting has led to inappropriate criminal charges of endangering the welfare of a child.

He cites cases exactly the one we saw this week in Rochester of a dad charged for leaving his child in a running car that ended up being stolen. (Pages 28-29)

Pimentel says media has created such a profound fear of stranger danger, the public has a distorted view of risks of leaving children unsupervised. The standard of “reasonableness” is no longer reasonable. Police, prosecutors and juries have little faith in parents’ abilities to make proper assessments. Parents of certain cultures and socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to be swept up in criminal prosecutions.

According to the statistics cited by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, only about one in 1.5 million children will be abducted this year. In an effort to put these odds in perspective, one commentator has observed that statistically, someone who wanted a child to be abducted would have to leave the child outside, unattended, for 500,000 years before he could expect it to happen.


…the media has sensationalized risk to children to such a degree that the view of a “member of the populace” is unlikely to reflect actual dangers or risks. The gut reaction of people on the street is inherently unreliable in today’s media-saturated society.  The Ohio courts have also reversed convictions of parents who left their children in the care of young care-givers, one case involving a 4-year-old entrusted to 13- and 12-year-old babysitters, and another case involving an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old left in the care of their 11- and 9-year-old older siblings. While these last three convictions were ultimately reversed, that does not change the fact that the parents were charged, tried, and convicted of neglect or endangerment in all these cases. That alone sends a very strong message to parents that their parenting decisions will be second-guessed by others, with nothing less than criminal punishment and a criminal record at stake.

– Speaking of risks, here’s another piece of heavy reading. My colleague, Evan Dawson, combs through studies on whether it’s safe to drink during pregnancy. He found light drinking really doesn’t cause any harm! But the media doesn’t tell you that.

– Rochester has a parking problem – too much of it! Rochester Subway has an illuminating map.

– Since 1971, Xerox has been loaning out workers to charities. A dozen employees a year can take sabbaticals at full pay!

– Who doesn’t love meatballs?

Links of the Day:

– News Flash! A first grade boy from the Syracuse area “escaped” from school and walked a half-mile home without getting abducted or run over by a car.

Little Nathan left school because he doesn’t like sloppy joes. His mother made a huge stink – and the Syracuse Post-Standard bit. She blamed the loss of cafeteria aides for not keeping an eye on her kid. The mother, who says she drives her kids to school every day, feels this is a horrible outrage, because something bad could have happened:

“He said he kept saying to himself, ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,’” she said. “What if that had been his last thought before he was run over?”

Of course, kids shouldn’t be allowed to leave school whenever they want. But my takeaway from this story wasn’t that little Nathan could have been killed. It was that little Nathan is a mischievous and independent boy who is capable of walking .66 miles by himself.

The kids in Maplewood, including myself, walked to #7 School alone when we were Nathan’s age. Crime stats indicate Rochester was far more dangerous back then. It’s not the times that have changed – it’s the cultural norms.

My colleague, Evan Dawson, wrote about becoming a father and fearing his child won’t have the same freedom we had as children. I told him to start reading the Free Range Kids blog. Lenore Skenazy’s message is that society cannot eliminate all risk and in the process of trying, creates real harm.

– Cuomo has an “Indian problem,” writes City & State. Native Americans have been excluded from the table, the column says.

– Cuomo’s “transparency website” is anything but, Innovation Trail discovered in a thorough takedown of the effort.

– A bunch of doctors have diagnosed the LeRoy teens with conversion disorder. At what point should the media stop calling it a “mystery?” It is very common with conversion disorder for families to reject the diagnosis and doctor shop.

– Rochester was once home to the “Waldorf of Western New York.”