Leaving a Child Unattended in A Vehicle

 In Blog

As a new parent, you would never dream of leaving your newborn in the car if you had to run an errand, even if it only lasted a few minutes. It’s amazing the number of scenarios that run through your mind in just a few seconds of time you’re considering it.

There’s a good reason for that – the unexpected can happen at any time. Obviously. So while you may be running into the post office to mail something real quick, and you got the parking spot right in front, there could be a 15-minute wait in front of you.

On a 70 degree day, the car can heat up to over 90 degrees during that time. That’s more than 20 degrees in less time than it takes to cook a pizza. Even on an overcast day, the heat levels rise incredibly quickly in a parked car. It can be a very real issue for small children and pets.

Washington State, Other State Laws

Even though the number of children that have died in a hot car is relatively low – five since 1998 – Washington has one of the most stringent laws on the books. It is illegal to leave a child 15 years of age or younger unattended in a car if it’s running.

In fact, only 19 states have laws specifically against leaving children unsupervised in a motor vehicle. In California, it is illegal to leave a 6-year-old or younger in a car unless there is someone 12 years or older in the car with them. In Illinois, it’s not allowed for 10 or more minutes unless someone 14 or older is in the car.

In Kentucky, there are no limits for how long an 8-year-old or younger can be left unattended in a car – but it’s felony manslaughter if the child dies. Utah has a similar law and 31 states have no specific “hot car” laws. That’s quite a range of laws dealing with a child left unattended in a car.

Because so few states address leaving children unattended for periods of time, you may think there’s little danger. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to noheatstroke.org, an average of 40 children die each year in a hot car.

Texas and Florida experience the most hot-car deaths, while Northern states like New Hampshire and Vermont have had none. It should be said that in most states if an unattended child in a vehicle is harmed, child endangerment or child abuse charges may be levied.

In many cases, children were left behind on purpose. However, many cases involved guardians simply forgetting there was a child in the back seat. In an effort to eliminate such occurrences, legislators from Ohio, Mississippi, Connecticut, and Washington.

Federal Legislation on the Way?
There are currently bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate dealing with unattended kids in the car. Both bills concern new passenger vehicles required to install child alert safety systems into the rear car seats. In each case, these are known as the “Hot Cars Act of 2019.”

While H.R. 3593 (Rep. Ryan, OH-13) and S. 1601 (Sens. Wicker, Miss; Blumenthal, Conn; Cantwell, WA) both address the dangers of hot cars, they extend to cover any risk to the child left alone in a vehicle. Essentially, an alarm will sound when the vehicle engine or motor is stopped when it detects a presence in the rear seats.

Should I be a Good Samaritan?

States differ on whether or not you can break open a window to rescue an overheated child in a car. Known as “Good Samaritan Laws,” this allows citizens to assist people in distress, even if it involves the destruction of property or injury.

Oregon is one of 16 states that with such allows, protecting you and bystanders for coming to the aid of a child that’s struggling inside a hot car. Still, it’s a good idea to make sure what you’re seeing is distress or there aren’t any other ways of opening the car instead of smashing open a window.

You may not be protected from civil liability if that’s not the case. Good intentions or not. Steps to take if you see an unattended child in a car:

Make Sure The Child is in Danger: Is the baby crying because they are overheated or because they just want to make noise. Their parents may know the difference, bystanders may not. If unsure, remain with the car until the driver returns.
Other Ways In: Your first inclination should be to check if the door is unlocked. It would be very foolish to act impulsively and hurl a rock through a window if the front door is unlocked or a sunroof was open. It can be very stressful to see a baby in trouble, but take the time to gather your thoughts.
Call Paramedics or the Police: Safety officials have been trained to know what to look for with children in peril. Call 911 to let them know what you are witnessing, where you are located, and any other pertinent information. If emergency service personnel are close by, they can help. If not, they may be able to guide you through a safe process for opening the door.

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you there have been times when they’ve been less than diligent. Luckily in Washington, there are only a few times a year when the weather gets to hot to be outside, much less in a car. But as we all know, even a few minutes can make a difference, even on a cloudy day.

Chappelle’s Towing has been helping stranded motorists, towing unlawfully parked vehicles, and assisting law enforcement with accidents in the Clark County area for nearly 40 years. With locations in Vancouver and Battle Ground, we’re never too far away to help with a flat tire, tow your car to safety, or other roadside assistance.

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