With summer weather comes the barrage of articles sharing new stories of parents leaving their children in hot vehicles, but how dangerous can this practice be? Leaving a child in a car unattended can lead to significant health concerns for children and legal troubles for the parent. Here is a deeper look into the health and legal concerns leaving a child in a hot car can cause to get a better understanding.
Thirty-eight deaths occur annually due to hot cars, mainly because the car is not hot when a parent leaves their child. When it is 70 degrees outside, the interior of the vehicle can become 90 degrees in a mere 10 minutes. After an hour in 70-degree weather, the inside of a car can grow to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.
This risk increases as the outside temperature increases. At 80 degrees outside, it takes 10 minutes for the inside of the car to become 100 degrees. In an hour, that temperature rises to 123 degrees. When it is 90 degrees outside, the vehicle’s interior can become 109 degrees in 10 minutes and 133 degrees in one hour.
There are several factors that can change these conditions. For example, lighter-colored cars reflect heat, which makes their interiors cooler. Conversely, darker colored cars absorb heat, making them hotter. A simple color change can lead to a 20-30 degree difference in temperature. It is also important to note that cracking a window or turning on the air conditioning does not impact temperature once the car is turned off.
These temperatures can be incredibly harmful to children, whose bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s body. At 104 degrees Fahrenheit, significant organs shut down. Children can even die once the car hits 107 degrees due to heatstroke. It does not even have to be hot outside for children to experience heat stroke. At a mere 57 degrees Fahrenheit outside, a vehicle has the potential to reach heat stroke temperatures inside.
As a result, many states have enacted laws to legally protect bystanders who take action to protect or rescue an at-risk individual or animal from a locked car. In 2017, Colorado passed HB17-1179 which defines at-risk individuals as those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, those over the age of 70 and young children. Today, Colorado and 27 other states have laws on the books to protect bystander action.
“We need to protect the health and safety of our children,” says Justie Nicol, partner at Colorado Lawyer Team. “Educating parents and community members about the dangers of hot cars can help save lives.”
To try and lower the number of children suffering from heatstroke, some states have implemented laws against the practice. However, they vary from state to state because of climate conditions and the height of concern.
Alongside the deathly consequences a hot car can have on a child, there are also legal concerns to consider. Twenty states have laws prohibiting leaving pets or children inside vehicles but the range of these laws varies.
For instance, Kentucky and Missouri have laws involving unattended children left in vehicles, but their laws apply to fatalities only. Wisconsin’s law applies to childcare providers only. Rhode Island requires police officers to give verbal warnings about leaving children in cars but does not required actions.
Several states also have laws outright prohibiting the practice, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Other states are currently proposing laws regarding leaving children in cars, including Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia.
There are also good Samaritan laws that can protect people who save children from hot cars. If someone has to break a window or other property to access the child, good Samaritan laws may protect that person from liability for the damaged property.
Regardless of the different laws, everyone should be mindful of the dangers of hot cars and take appropriate precautions to protect children and pets from the heat.