Free-Range Kids

2-Year-Old Falls Out of Vehicle After Car Seat Mishap. The Kid Is Fine. Mom Could Be Headed to Jail.

Maimuna Hassan made a common mistake. Should that be a crime?


Melpomenem / Dreamstime

There but for the grace of God go I, and anyone who has ever used a car seat wrong: A Minnesota mom strapped her child into a car seat, but somehow didn't manage to strap the seat to the car. Then, the car door opened, either because it wasn't slammed shut all the way or somehow the child opened it. Result? As mom drives, the car door opens, and the child, in her car seat, falls out.

Another driver witnessed what happened and scooped the child up—who's fine, thank god. The mother turned around, came back in hysterics, and was slapped with child endangerment charges.

Accotding to Yahoo News:

Maimuna Hassan, 40, faces a gross misdemeanor charge of child endangerment, a permit violation misdemeanor charge and a petty misdemeanor charge for child passenger restraint not fastened, according to a criminal complaint from Blue Earth County, Minnesota. The child endangerment charge carries up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine, or both, and the other two charges carry up to 90 days or a $1,000 fine or both.

On the one hand, yes, this child was endangered. On the other hand, by the time you are strapping your child into a car seat, you are not a reckless, devil-may-care parent. One study found that up to 93 percent of new parents don't secure their kids in those confounding car seats correctly. And 75 percent of parents turn their kids face-forward too soon. Doing that kind of thing does not make us bad parents. That makes us humans, confused by something that is not inherently user-friendly.

A friend who has a PhD in education just told me that she remembers a time when her daughter was one and she drove for an hour before realizing that she'd neglected to actually buckle the kid in.

That that Minnesota child was perfectly fine is thanks, ironically, to her mom dutifully having strapped her into the protective car seat. To treat a mistake like a crime is the kind of reaction that does not take into account reality. It's like when cops charge parents with negligence because their 3-year-old suddenly learned to unlock the front door and let himself out in the middle of the night, or because an 8-year-old ditched Sunday School and went to the Dollar Store. Parenting is impossible to do perfectly. To imagine that parents can and must never make a single misjudgment or mistake turns all parents into potential criminals just because they are human, not because they are evil, cruel or careless.

The comments below the article very much tended toward a burn the witch! mentality. The one thing that she did consciously do wrong was drive on a learner's permit, not a full license. In a country where it's hard to get around without a car, I can understand the desperation, but still, the state licenses drivers for a reason.

Be that as it may, the consequences she might face—including a year or more in jail and a possible $5,000 in fines—are hardly going to make her children safer. With mom in jail or in debt, they are not better off. Hassan coud have been let off with a warning and a mandate to attend one of those car seat safety clinics that are ubiquitous precisely because car seats are confusing to us all.