In Pennsylvania, it is a violation of the motor vehicle code to leave a child under six years of age unattended in a vehicle. Now, two Pennsylvania lawmakers are seeking to expand the scope of this law. Rather than being a relatively minor infraction of the motor vehicle law, the proposed bill would change the current law in several significant ways. Republican Senator Robert Tomlinson and Representative Gene DiGirolamo have proposed this change in the laws of Pennsylvania, primarily in response to several instances where parents left children alone in cars while they gambled, for periods of up to six hours.
The proposed law would extend the age range, making it illegal to leave a child under age thirteen in a vehicle, rather than under age six in a car. Whereas now a young child might not be considered “unattended” if an older teen is in the car, a 17-year-old will be considered incapable of providing adequate supervision, and an adult will be required to provide the supervision.
The proposed law would also change the definition of the type of crime being committed. Rather than being a misdemeanor infraction of the motor vehicle code, the crime will be redefined as a felony. The proposed punishment includes a minimum of three-and-a-half years in prison, along with a fine of up to $15,000.
Clearly, no parent (or grandparent, for that matter) should leave a young child alone in a car for six hours. As a parent and grandparent, I wonder why current child endangerment laws would not adequately cover this situation.
Consider this scenario under the proposed law: An adult has a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old child in the car. Low on gas, the driver pulls into a gas station and goes in to the cashier to pay for the gas, leaving the 17 and 12-year-old in the car for several minutes. Under the current law, the 12-year-old is adequately supervised by the presence of the 17-year-old.
Under the proposed law, the adult is guilty of a felony. Imagine further that the adult in question is a single parent, and that the other parent is completely out of the picture. Under the proposed bill, it is entirely possible that the adult can serve seven years in prison, while the children go into the foster care system. Yet it would be perfectly legal for the 17 and 12-year-old to be left alone at home for several hours, or even a full day, without adult supervision. Somehow, this does not feel right to me.
With this bill, the government moves ever closer to attempting to legislate common sense – a feat that is impossible. The government appears to be moving towards trying to legislate for every possible situation, under the misguided presumption that most adults lack sufficient common sense and morals to be able to be good parents. This bill takes reduces the choice that a parent should be able without government intervention and it insults the intelligence and decision-making skills that generally are associated with being an adult.
The government, with this bill, also assumes that a child under the age of 13 – such as a 10, 11, or 12-year-old – is entirely incapable of sitting in a car for a few minutes without the presence of an adult also in the car. That too, I also find, insulting; does the government presume that the majority of parents are participating in raising an entire generation of irresponsible youngsters?
The existing motor vehicle law regarding unsupervised children under age 6, along with all the current child welfare and child endangerment laws, should be more than sufficient. It’s time these lawmakers go find some real issues to deal with.