Las Vegas is a desert landscape, and a parked car can reach temperatures of well over 100 degrees in a mater of minutes during the summer. Even in Nevada’s cooler climates, however, the inside of a vehicle can get extremely hot, and the oxygen in a closed and locked vehicle can run out, quickly. Therefore it is extremely dangerous to leave a child unattended in a locked vehicle. Moreover, even if the vehicle is left running for the purposes of air flow and possible heating and air conditioning needs, an unattended child could put the car in gear, or somehow create other dangers. Consequently, leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is a crime in Nevada.

What are the laws that regulate leaving a child unattended in a vehicle?

The laws relating to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is governed by NRS 202.575.

NRS 202.5375 – Leaving child unattended in motor vehicle; penalty; exception.

  1. A parent, legal guardian or other person responsible for a child who is 7 years of age or younger shall not knowingly and intentionally leave that child in a motor vehicle if:
    1. The conditions present a significant risk the health and safety of the child; or
    2. The engine of the motor vehicle is running or the keys to the vehicle are in the ignition.
  • Unless the child is being supervised by and within the sight of a person who is at least 12 years of age.
  1. A person who violates the provisions of subsection 1 is guilty of a misdemeanor. The court may suspend the proceedings against a person who is charged with violating subsection 1 and dismiss the proceedings against the person if the person presents proof to the court, within the time specified by the court. The educational program must include, without limitation, information concerning the dangers of leaving a child unattended or inadequately attended in a motor vehicle.
  2. A law enforcement officer or other person rendering emergency services who reasonably believes that a violation of this section has occurred may, without incurring civil liability, use any reasonable means necessary to protect the child and to remove the child from the motor vehicle.
  3. No person may be prosecuted under this section if the conduct would give rise to prosecution under any other provision or law.
  4. The provisions of this section do not apply to a person who unintentionally locks a motor vehicle with a child in the vehicle.
  5. As used in this section, “motor vehicle” means every vehicle which is self-propelled but not operated upon rails.

I understand not being able to leave my child in a car if it isn’t running, but is it seriously against the law to leave a child in the car if it is running?

Yes. For obvious reasons, leaving a young child, under the age of 7, in a car that is not running can be dangerous to the child’s health and welfare. In 100+ degree weather, a car can become a lethal oven to a child left unattended inside.

However, even if the car is running, it is illegal to leave a child in the car unless there is another person, who is at least 12 years old, in the car with the young child. There are numerous reasons why it is illegal to leave a child unattended in the car, even if the keys are in the vehicle and/or the car is running:

  • The child may accidentally lock the car, preventing you from being able to get in;
  • The child may shut the car off and, thereby creating a dangerous condition for the child who may not know how to restart the vehicle;
  • Someone may break into the vehicle and steal it, and the child, since the car is running.

These are just some of the reasons why it is illegal to leave a child unattended in the car, even if the car is left running.

Why would it matter if there was a 12-year-old in the car?

For whatever reason, the Legislature has determined that at 12 years old, a child should have the ability to unlock the vehicle and to get themselves and the younger child out of the car if the conditions become dangerous. In other words, if the car were accidentally shut off, a 12-year-old is deemed old enough to understand how to unlock the door and get out so as to not die of exposure.

What are the possible penalties?

Convictions for leaving a child unattended in a vehicle are misdemeanors, which carry possible penalties of:

  • Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
  • Possible fines up to $1,000.

PLEASE NOTE: First time offenders can usually strike a deal with the prosecutor or the Court to complete classes regarding the dangers of leaving a child unattended in a car. If such a deal is made, the Judge will likely dismiss the case entirely upon completion of the educational course.

Are there any Defenses?

Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • Safe Conditions – As noted above, violations of NRS 202.575 require that the conditions be such that they present a danger to the health of the child. If you or your attorney can show that the child faced no danger by being left in the vehicle (for example if the temperature was moderate and the windows were rolled down enough to allow plenty of airflow), then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with leaving a child unattended in a vehicle?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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