During a terrifying bank robbery in Stockton, California, last week, three robbers entered the Bank of West Branch with handguns and an AK-47. They took three women hostage and sped off. Two of the women survived after being flung from or jumping out of the moving SUV. The third, Misty Holt-Singh, a 41-year-old mom, was used as a human shield. She died.
There is no good side to this story, but there is one thing to note: Holt-Singh had been running this errand with her 12-year-old and allowed the girl to wait in the car. In other words, she did exactly what so many public service announcements—and busybodies and cops—tell parents not to do. She left her daughter unsupervised in a car.
Her daughter is alive today.
Just one week before this tragedy, a mom in Bristol, Connecticut, was charged with leaving her 11-year-old daughter alone in the car while she ran an errand. The rationale was that the child was in danger. What if she got abducted or died of heatstroke? What if? is the rationale behind arresting parents who let their kids wait in cars.
But tragedies are extremely unlikely to happen while parents run errands. The vast majority of kids who die in cars—up to 40 each year—do so because they are forgotten all day, not waiting while mom picks up the pizza or runs to the bank.
What happened in Stockton should serve as a reminder that we just can't predict tragedy. We shouldn't be arresting parents under the assumption that outlandishly unlikely dangers are always just around the corner. You could prohibit parents from leaving kids in cars and then have them die in bank robberies! Both dangers are extremely rare and impossible to predict—why have laws that assume lightning is always about to strike?
There is risk in everything in life. Punishing parents who make rational decisions just because something bad could happen is not going to change that. Something bad could always happen.