Every summer, we hear the awful news about hot car deaths. Forgotten children and pets die in cars that reach temperatures above 120 degrees.
It happens all too often despite numerous public service announcements and reminders to avoid putting society’s most vulnerable in this situation. According to the safety organization Kids and Cars, 37 children, on average, die each year in hot cars. Already in 2017, 29 children have died in overheated cars. According to the ASPCA, the number of pets that die each year is in the thousands.
Legislators are pushing for safety features
A bill aimed at preventing hot car deaths was introduced in the House by Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Peter King, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. It would require new cars to have the technology to alert drivers if a child is left in the back seat. The bill passed out of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee in July.
“You get a warning when you leave the keys in the car. You should get a warning if you leave a child in the car,” Schakowsky said. “It’s time for action, and the language in this draft would be a great step forward. Children are dying preventable deaths – we cannot afford to wait.”
A similar bill is pending in the Senate.
Automakers are already working on the problem
The 2018 Nissan Pathfinder SUV will come equipped with a rear seat reminder. It was designed by two Nissan engineers who also happen to be moms. If the Rear Door Alert System senses that the back doors have been opened and closed prior to a trip, but not reopened at the end of the trip, it will notify the driver. Notification starts with a display on the instrument panel and progresses to a series of horn honks.
The 2017 GMC Acadia was the first to install a rear seat alert to remind drivers they put something in the back seat. It is activated when the SUV’s rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or while the vehicle is running.
Then, when the car is turned off, five chimes sound and this message scrolls in the diver information center: “Rear Seat Reminder/Look in Rear Seat.”
General Motors is putting this feature in all its GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick models, even its sports cars. The alerts are aimed at saving small children, but they also can save pets who are left in an overheated car.
So what can you do if you come across a child in a hot car?
Some states have “Good Samaritan” hot car laws that protect civilians who break into cars to rescue a child. Most states require that law enforcement be called either before or after attempting to break into the vehicle.
The states that have”Good Samaritan” hot car laws on the books or already proposed are Arizona (takes effect in August, 2017), California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Alabama has a bill pending as well. Most states at least limit the charges against civilians who break into vehicles to a civil fine.
What about rescuing an animal left in an overheated car?
The laws vary greatly, depending on the state and what type of animal is in the hot car.
Colorado, Maryland, and Minnesota’s laws only apply to dogs and cats. Laws in New York, Nevada and Virginia cover any companion animal. South Dakota’s law covers a cat, dog or other small animal. Both Indiana and North Carolina exempt livestock from coverage. Indiana, Florida and Wisconsin’s law cover any domestic animal.
Some states have laws that allow only public officials like police or humane officers to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal. Those states include Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
In contrast, both New Jersey and West Virginia prohibit anyone, even law enforcement, from breaking into a vehicle to save an animal.
What You Need to Do Before Breaking Into a Car
If you do feel it is necessary to break into a hot car for a rescue, here are some things to keep in mind:
- First, check all of the doors to see if any are unlocked. There is no point in breaking a window if the doors aren’t locked!
- If the doors are indeed all locked, do not try to break the window with your hand or elbow. Most windows are pretty strong and you are likely to injure yourself and still not gain entry to the vehicle. Look around for a sharp object to crack the window with. You could use a rock, the jack from your own car or a device specifically made for breaking windows. These are available at most auto supply stores and are often carried in glove boxes for use should a car become submerged in water.
- Break the window farthest from the child or animal in the vehicle so as not to shower them with glass when the window breaks.
- Clear all of the jagged pieces from the window before reaching in to unlock the door. You don’t want to cut yourself in the process.
- Consult with 911 to see what actions would be most beneficial for the victim if help has not yet arrived.