As Summer Heats Up, So Do Vehicles
We read about it in the news all the time: Children left in hot cars who then suffer terrible heat injuries or tragically die. The stories tell us about parents and caregivers who accidentally forget children in the car, or who think they have enough time to run into a store and grab a few items before the car gets too hot.
What many people don’t know is that it can take less than a couple of minutes for a car to overheat, and that it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside. Studies show that cars can overheat even when outside temperatures are in the upper 50s. And on warmer days, cars can heat up 20 degrees in 10 minutes and 40 degrees in less than an hour.
Even more incredible is that very few states have laws restricting people from leaving children in hot cars, including in Arizona. There aren’t any federal laws either.
Heat injuries can be deadly. They can cause dehydration, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and muscle cramps. With continued heat exposure, there is a lack of oxygen to the brain and the person can experience seizures or a coma. When a child who is unable to unbuckle her seatbelt, roll down a window or get out of a hot car is left unattended, she is at risk of injury and death.
There are a few states who do make it illegal to leave your child unattended in a car even for less than a minute. But many more, including Arizona, don’t have any laws on the books at all. While that doesn’t mean negligent parents and caregivers aren’t prosecuted if they do endanger a child, it can be a more difficult case to bring in front of the court.
According to , as many as 40 children die each year in hot cars. That’s almost as many as one child per week, on average. The majority of deaths occur in the hot summer months and in southern states such as Texas and Florida. However, deaths also occur in winter months and can happen anywhere, so parents have to be diligent never to leave their children unattended in a car.
So what can you do if you notice a child left unattended? Some states, including Arizona, have Good Samaritan laws to protect you from the damages you cause while saving a child or a pet from a hot car. That means you will not be liable for damages if you have a “good faith belief” that the child or pet is in imminent danger, that the car is locked and there is no other way to rescue them, that you notify the authorities and that you remain with the child or pet until authorities arrive.
Some states don’t have these Good Samaritan laws, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take action. First, you can observe the child for a moment to determine if he is at risk. If you think he is, call 911 immediately and see if there are any unlocked doors that allow you to reach him without having to break in. Stay on the phone with emergency services to determine how far away they are and whether they want you to attempt to retrieve the child. In some instances, they will talk you through the steps to take.
And what can you do if you are a parent? First, never leave your child in the car, no matter how fast you think you can run your errand. Next, invest in technology that alerts you if you (or your child’s caregiver) forget your child in the car. There are car seats that have alerts as well as backseat monitors that will tell you if someone is still back there.