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It’s a situation faced by most parents at some point, you’ve got a young child asleep in the car, you’ve just filled up with petrol and you need to go inside and pay. OR your bub just fell asleep and you need to grab bread and milk. What SHOULD you do?

Find out what the law has to say about this tricky issue.

In Queensland, the criminal code, section 364a, under the title “Leaving a child under 12 unattended”, states:

A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty — 3 years’ imprisonment.

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Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

It’s been in Queensland’s criminal code for nearly a decade. Under the previous law parents could only be punished if their unattended child was injured or suffered neglect.

Laws vary in each state and territory:

In Victoria you’ll find “offence to leave child unattended” under section 494 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.

It says a person who has the control or charge of a child must not leave the child without making reasonable provision for the child’s supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.

The penalties for leaving a child unattended in a car in Victoria include:
A fine (currently $3,690), or;
A maximum of 6 months jail

In NSW, according to Family and Community Services, there is no actual law that states at what age children can be left alone, but the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children.

However, anyone who leaves any child or young person in a motor vehicle without proper supervision — potentially or actually causing emotional or physical harm — is guilty of an offence.

“Our advice to parents has always been never leave a child unattended in a car,” Steve Spalding, RACQ’s head of technical and safety policy, told ABC news.

“If you have to do errands or go into the servo or something like that, wherever possible, if it’s practical, make other arrangements to leave the child where they’re safer at home rather than putting them at risk of being unattended in a vehicle.”

How do you manage this tricky task?

Share your comments below

  • Since I live in a small town I’ve always been able to park right next to the shop when I’ve bought my fuel. If they’ve been busy I just wait next to my car until the shop emptied. If I went to a larger town I always had another adult along for the drive.

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  • I don’t like to leave my kids for a longer time in the car, but have no problem with leaving my 14 and 13yr old for a moment.
    However I don’t trust my 8yr old and will not leave her alone when I can avoid it.
    I also will not leave her with my 5yr old as sometimes she has done things to her. But when I drop my 5yr old off at child care, I do leave her for 5minutes alone. The alternative would be taking her with me, but she has been stealing at the child care center of her sister so I don’t feel that’s a good option at the moment.

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  • In all honesty though, who takes their kids in to pay for fuel? More dangerous out of the car breathing in toxic fumes.

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  • The law should be the same Australia wide. I don’t know why there would be a different law for different states.

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  • The laws should be national not by each state. Personally I would never leave a child unattended at all, meaning you need to be able to see them and keep glancing over. Filling up with petrol should be done when you have someone else with you.

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  • The difficulty is that kids are so different one 13 year old may be fine to spend a day unattended while another may not.

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  • It is indeed a tricky task.

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  • Wow, I have left my 4 year old in the car when I know there isn’t a long queue to pay – so it’s about 2 mins all up. They are never in the sun and I always lock the doors.

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  • In all honesty my parents always left me in the car when paying for petrol. it is mere seconds in the shade and seriously? it’s probably more harmful to get them out breathing in the petrol fumes and risk the comings and goings of cars. I think people need to wake up and mind their business. Clearly you are not harming the child by leaving them in the car for the few seconds it takes to buy fuel.

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  • I never left my child unsupervised in the car for petrol or other means. I would just wait and fill up at another time, wake my child, or make another arrangement. Nothing is more important than the safety of my child.

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  • Only when my older kids are in the car, I leave my younger ones in the car. But to be honest I rather pick the moments I’m alone to get my fuel or when I’m only with my youngest, I take her in my arms to pay.

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  • I never left my daughter in the car, even when paying for petrol. In fact, I always take my keys and lock the car when I go inside to pay for petrol. She is grown now so I don’t have to worry about it now.

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  • When my son was small he would always wake up when I stopped the car, I either tried to fill up in the bay closest to the pay door or took him with me. Although I think it is better to have someone else with you when you fill up or get someone to fill up your car.These days with carjacking becoming more common I would not take any chances.

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  • Have never had to do this – always had other adults with me when I have been driving with my children.

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  • As a mother of four I can say I have without a doubt and without guilt, raced into the servo to pay for fuel. I have always made sure the child was either attended by older siblings, or was asleep or content / occupied and watched through the window. If I thought there was a chance of the child stirring or trying to get out they came with me. I don’t see it as dangerous as I’m still supervising and as the parent have adequately assessed the situation. Having said that, i wouldn’t leave a child in the car to run into a supermarket

    Reply

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