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What Is Utah’s Free-Range Parenting Law?

Posted May 22, 2018 | Uncategorized

People have been acutely aware of the danger in children wandering around without supervision for decades. “Stranger danger” is a term that all children learn when they are young. Many states have laws to penalize parents who allow their children to go around unsupervised, making them prone to playground accidents. Utah recently approved a free-range parenting bill that gives parents the right to let their children roam around without supervision. Many parents are left wondering what the law will mean for them and their children.

Utah’s Free-Range Parenting Law

Utah is the first state to pass a free-range parenting law. Children who are deemed mature can legally walk to school, the store, playgrounds or roam around places without being supervised by an adult. Most other states have specific laws prohibiting parents from leaving their children alone. Many states consider parental neglect a type of child abuse and punish it as such. Nineteen states outline circumstances when it is illegal to leave a child unattended in a car. Five states have laws that specify when it is legal to leave a child at home alone.

People supportive of the bill claim it will help encourage children to be more independent and self-sufficient. They argue that children will have the opportunity to get used to life without someone always watching over them, which will benefit them as they grow older. Utah Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R-Salt Lake) claims parents have started protecting their children too intensely and that it is having a negative affect on the children. Some proponents also believe parents are stifling children and limiting their development by always supervising them.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also supports of the bill. He added an amendment to the 2015 education bill that says parents should not face criminal charges for allowing their children to bike or walk to school without supervision.

Potential Threats

Other states, such as Arkansas, have tried to pass free-range parenting bills. Arkansas’ effort failed because people worried about the safety of children in the communities. Though people who opposed the bill in Utah cited similar concerns about safety, lawmakers overruled the concern. Many people believe the bill passed in Utah because of its reputation as a safer state overall. Utah has less violence than many other states. About 243 crimes occurred across Utah for every 100,000 residents in 2016. Alaska, for example, had a rate that was more than three times larger than that of Utah. Homicide, abuse, robbery, assault, and a variety of other crimes occur significantly less frequently in Utah than many other states. Lawmakers are more willing to allow children to explore unsupervised because the criminal danger is perceived to be less prevalent.

Unsupervised children are not only vulnerable to threats from other people. Cars also put children at risk of serious injury or death. The design of Utah’s streets caters more to cars than pedestrians, increasing the awareness pedestrians need to navigate the streets safely. Adult supervision helps children stay safe. Utah has seen a 25% increase in fatal pedestrian crashes in the past five years. More than one-third of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 24. Unsupervised children are more likely to wander into the road, inadvertently putting themselves in danger of being hit.

Some people believe that the increased road danger is a result of Utah’s sprawl, since areas with a higher concentration of people experience fewer traffic fatalities and injuries. Drivers are more likely to speed or drive carelessly outside of high-density urban areas. Speeding or reckless drivers put children at the highest risk when they are trying to navigate the roads alone. 

If you have any unanswered questions, please contact our personal injury attorneys