It is never a good idea to leave a vehicle unattended, and in some states it is actually against the law. In Florida, for example, “a parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child younger than 6 years of age may not leave the child unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle for a period in excess of 15 minutes, or for any period of time if the motor of the vehicle is running, the health of the child is in danger, or the child appears to be in distress.” Any person who violates these provisions commits a misdemeanor of the second degree punishable by a fine not less than $50 and not more than $500.
What are the consequences when these behaviors result in death? On June 9th, two toddlers in Texas were intentionally left in a locked car for 15 hours while their mother and boyfriend partied with friends. Amanda Hawkins, the 19-year old mother, was charged with two counts of abandoning or endangering a child. Two weeks prior, two children in Ft. Worth died in a hot car incident after their mother reported them missing. The 2-yr old was found in a locked car holding the mother’s cell phone and car keys. Back in Florida, a 2-year old died in March of this year, after being locked in a car for five hours by his 21-year old half-sister while she went to work at a daycare center. No criminal charges were filed.
Illegal or not, you should NEVER, EVER leave a child alone in a car. It is a health hazard that may result in the death, even if parked in the shade of a tree. Don’t be fooled by the shade – the inside of a vehicle can increase precipitously even when not directly exposed to sunshine. A CNN video explanation of the greenhouse effect that takes place inside a parked car might be the awakening some parents need to understand the dangers rising temperatures pose on people and pets left in an unattended vehicle. Even a mild 70 degrees can turn into a scalding 90 degrees in a car with closed windows after just 10 minutes.
How long does it take for the temperature to rise inside a car? This chart compares the temperature inside and outside a car, at 10 minutes and at 30 minutes lapse in time:
From 1998 to 2016, there were 700 U.S. heatstroke-related deaths of children left in cars. So far this year, KidsAndCars.org reports 11 hot car deaths. An examination of media reports shows the following circumstances:
- 54% – child “forgotten” by caregiver
- 28% – child playing in unattended vehicle
- 17% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult
- 1% – circumstances unknown
The inside of a vehicle heats up very quickly as a result of “The Greenhouse Effect”. Even with the windows partially rolled down, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in minutes, as cracking the windows does not help slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature. Much of the increase in temperature – 80% – happens during the first 10 minutes of stopping the car. An additional contributing factor focuses on the rate of overheating – a child’s body overheats 3‐5 times faster than an adult body, and children have died from heatstroke in cars in temperatures as low as 60 degrees.
Hot vehicles are the primary non-crash, vehicle-related killer of children under 14, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Children under the age of 1 are the most common victims, according to Kidsandcars.org. More than half of those who left children alone in vehicles did so unknowingly. Other reasons cited: the child got into the vehicle on his or her own (32 percent), child was knowingly left in vehicle (12 percent) and circumstance unknown (2 percent). The Department of Earth and Climate Science at San Francisco State University monitors hot-car deaths, citing many attributed to heatstroke as the cause of death – about 60 percent of non-crash-fatalities in children under 14. Researchers there found that since 1998, the annual average of juvenile deaths in cars has been 38. While the majority of heatstroke deaths in cars occur between June and August, deaths have been recorded for every month besides January over the past 16 years.
The same applies to pets –16 states have specific “hot car” laws with statutes that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in a confined vehicle. In many states, however, there are no hard-and-fast rules on the legality of leaving a dog unattended in a vehicle, although offenders can (and frequently do) face animal cruelty charges. In Las Vegas, the legal definition of “leaving a cat or dog unattended in an automobile” prohibits people from leaving a cat or dog alone in a “parked or standing motor vehicle during a period of extreme heat or cold or in any other manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.” Imagine the effect temperature rises demonstrated in the chart above has on an animal with fur and without water! Because leaving your pet alone in a car is a misdemeanor in Nevada, owners are looking at up to 6 months in jail, and/or up to $1,000 in fines. By committing this crime, you not only face fines and jail, but law enforcement can legally confiscate your pet, sell it or kill it by putting it down humanely.
Fatal Distraction Pulitzer Prize winning article by Gene Weingarten, The Washington Post